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.
The crossing carries the restored clocher, supported by squinches, and beyond, the apse has a lovely hemicycle separating the choir from the ambulatory.
The ambulatory has painted groin vaulting and is well lit by the outside windows all the way around and continuing down the side aisles.
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 “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.
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.
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.