There has been so much damage to the Romanesque monuments in the Saintonge region of France – the Hundred Years War was brutal, and then the wars of religion and the French Revolution continued the devastation – that it is difficult to find a church that has not been substantially rebuilt in the area. One that we found and admired is the 12th Century Église Saint-Vivien de Geay.
In the exterior shot, we can see the massive clocher that dominates the structure. Unlike many of her sisters in the Saintonge, Saint-Vivien has a very modest western facade and a wonderful chevet. These photographs also show the very large transepts in the structure.
We can see from the western entrance to the nave the hall church construction with banded ogive barrel vaults and a complex, rather unordered chancel. This chancel, which holds the crossing tower, is the dominant feature of the church.
The crossing tower is built on four sturdy columns in the chancel that are connected by the corresponding four powerful arches. Above the arches is a blind arcade as decoration.
This crossing tower was not part of the original 12th Century church, but was rebuilt in the 15th Century I believe. I think that the original tower was faulty and they built a much larger and more dominant clocher over the chancel crossing. It is clear that the necessary reinforcement was not gracefully done. In this shot we can see that the east/west arches are not properly centered and are awkwardly integrated.
This fault, however, is compensated by the wonderful effect that is achieved in the transept where we now have a set of double arches leading north and south. This is elegant and unique, in my experience, and one of the things I like best about Saint-Vivien.
In this view of the crossing from the north transept, we can see how the space between the double arches was used. In this case there are two niches which were used for ex-votos and church treasures, and the wooden pulpit entrance wraps around the outermost pillar into the nave.
Saint-Vivien de Geay is an interesting Romanesque church in a region filled with Romanesque remnants. We were glad to see so much of the original still extant, especially in light of the peculiar interior architecture of the crossing.