The Prieuré Sainte Gemme is a Romanesque priory church built in the 12th Century in the Saintonge style that we have explored before. We can see the highly sculpted west facade featuring stunning carvings on all of the archivolts. The church is – no pun intended – a gem.
There is one feature of the priory church that is completely charming and worth a special look – a series of imaginative corbels. In architecture a corbel is a structural piece of stone jutting from a wall to carry a superincumbent weight, in other words, a type of bracket. Romanesque masons often used these distant features as a place to showcase their sense of fun and satire, and nowhere is this more apparent than at this small church. At Sainte Gemme, there are two orders of corbels; the first is above the portals and the other above the second story arches.
The varying styles of the carving are displayed with this realistic bearded man and a thoroughly menacing demon. The demon shows deeply carved features adding special depth to the threatening mouth and eyes.
Contrast that demon with a carving of an impish man sticking out his tongue. This is a cartoonish figure full of fun and merriment, a figure that PJ and I call a “braticus”.
This cartoon character gives way to a surrealistic image of a lion with a man’s head in his mouth. The sharp-fanged lion is ferocious and the man’s face expresses his terror at being devoured.
But for me, nothing is more evocative than this triple-faced figure found directly above the central portal on the first order of corbels. Whether the figure is looking left, right and center of the door or possibly expressing some kind of human duplicity, this is a deeply disturbing figure. It is not one face looking in different directions, but three different faces completely. Even the hair is different for each.
These are just a few of the more three dozen corbels that adorn the western facade. As interesting a church as Sainte Gemme proved to be, the corbels were the highlight of our late-afternoon visit.
Location: Click this link to see the location on our custom Google Map.