Bourbon-l’Archambault (Dennis Aubrey)


We’ve described the Allier department in France as a place that we go through on the way to someplace else, but this year we decided to spend time there to capture a cluster of important Romanesque structures just west of Moulins. The first church we visited was in the town of Bourbon-l’Archambault, the home of the founders of the House of Bourbon, a branch of the Capetian dynasty of French royalty. Eventually the House of Bourbon came to hold the crowns of Spain, Luxembourg, Sicily, and Navarre.

Evidence of that power is visible today in Bourbon-l’Archambault, a spa resort with a population of about 2,500. At the top of a hill in the center of town are the imposing remains of the Château des Bourbon. Across town there is a more modest site; at the top of a nearby hill is a lovely 12th Century Romanesque church built on the site of a Roman temple of Apollo. The Église Saint George was originally a Benedictine priory which later became a parish church.

The painted interior features a Burgundian-style ogive barrel vault with bands, and great strong pillars to support the nave arches.

Nave, Église Saint George, Bourbon-l’Archambault (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The crossing carries the restored clocher, supported by squinches, and beyond, the apse has a lovely hemicycle separating the choir from the ambulatory.

Choir and hemicycle, Église Saint George, Bourbon-l’Archambault (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

The ambulatory has painted groin vaulting and is well lit by the outside windows all the way around and continuing down the side aisles.

Ambulatory, Église Saint George, Bourbon-l’Archambault (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

The sculptural decoration is quite good – today there remain about fifty of the original sixty-six Romanesque capitals. They are well-carved and still show traces of the original polychrome in places. My personal favorite is the Musician’s capital, featuring five figures playing instruments. This is a very well known capital, and one of the most faithful representations of medieval musicians known to scholars world-wide.

The Musicians Capital, Église Saint George, Bourbon-l’Archambault (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The “Lust” capital is also remarkable, featuring a red demon surrounded by horn-blowing figures mounted on goats. The bodies of the horn-blowers seem to be entwined with serpents’ coils.

“Lust” capital, Église Saint George, Bourbon-l’Archambault (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The Église Saint George has undergone significant restorations over the years, but is still a faithful representation of the transition from Burgundian Romanesque into Gothic.

Église Saint George, Bourbon-l’Archambault (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

If you are interested in a list of more French churches like this, follow this link.

Location: Click this link to see the location on our custom Google Map.

13 responses to “Bourbon-l’Archambault (Dennis Aubrey)

    • Viv, it’s a bit of a distance, about 600 kilometers, most of a day’s drive, but there are three or four really special churches within fifteen minutes of each other. Worth a weekend trip if you want to give it a shot. Let me know, and I’ll send you some information about this.

  1. These are really beautiful images. It makes me want to drop what I’m doing and see if I can join you two. I’m curious, do you have any problems using tripods? Also wondering if you need to get property releases to shoot these or are they considered “public” buildings. I’m mostly asking because I’ve encountered so many issues myself and it is frustrating. I had major hassles trying to shoot St. Patrick’s in Manhattan. It is very busy, but I stayed out of everyone’s way, and still they watched me like a hawk. It is very hard to work under those conditions. Looks like you have a lot of freedom to move around in these places. Are they mostly sitting empty? Keep up the great work!

    • Lisa, thank you for your kind words on our work. It is clearly a passion for PJ and myself, now in our seventh year of the project.

      As far as problems, I think we need to separate out Europe and the US. I find that in the US it is almost always necessary to get permission to shoot with tripods in a large church or cathedral; they are treated like private property, I think. When we shot at the Washington National Cathedral, for example, we worked for a couple of weeks to get proper access. When we shot in Providence or Boston, same thing. We just made arrangements prior. It does help that this is our specialty and that we can show our bona fides. But even smaller churches often require that one gets permission in advance, although we have shot many times without getting advance permission.

      In France, the churches are the property of the State, often managed by the church or a commune, but they are easy to shoot in. Large cathedrals can be different – we would never have gotten access to Chartres like we did on the last two occasions had we not been invited. But that being said, the only place other than Chartres that we needed actual permission was in Angers because the buildings that we visited were not open to the public, period. We have shot in Vézelay, Senlis, Sens, Reims, Laon, Albi, and many others with no problem.

      The smaller churches are often empty, unless they are somehow on the tourist track. But they do have worshippers, who we try in every way not to disturb. We will actually pack up and leave if there is intense religious activity going on. In these churches, though, if the locals see that you are serious about their churches, they are quite happy to have one photograph and often impart a great deal of local knowledge. These smaller churches are often (alas) closed, and it is necessary to search around to find who might have the key.

      I see from your sites that you are serious about your work. If you would like to contact us directly with questions, we can try to help.

  2. Something about this church looks so different from most of the others you have highlighted and that I have seen. Perhaps it’s the well preserved color, but also something else that I can’t quite place. Anyways, it’s beautiful!

    • Emily, one of the unique elements is that there is no clerestory level of windows, so all the light comes in from the side aisles and ambulatory, plus the few incandescent fixtures in the church. Add that to the color and it may be what is giving you this impression.

      BTW, we enjoy Toulouse (especially Saint Sernin) very much. I am inspired to go back and look at some of our shots – maybe we’ll do another post on that beautiful basilica.

      • You are so right, it’s the windows and therefore lighting that are so different. Thank you for pointing that out!
        And I would love to see your shots of St Sernin!

  3. Hi Dennis,
    In the final shot, the color of the surface changes about a meter up the piers. Is that showing a different stone or painted? I can’t tell as the lighting makes each one look different.
    Great wide arcades in this building!
    Thanks, jan

    • Janet, nice eye; was going to mention this in the post but forgot. It is actually the nettoyage, I believe. They left this line to show the difference made in the restoration. It is clear in all the shots that the difference is a matter of intensity of the colors.

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