The Forsaken Madonna of Agonges (Dennis Aubrey)


We have previously described the Allier as a place one goes through on the way to somewhere else but an extended stay in this area last year changed our mind. There are a number of wonderful Bourbonaise Romanesque churches that we discovered.

One of the more interesting is the small Notre Dame d’Agonges in a town near Bourbon-l’Archambault. This 12th century church is just three kilometers from Saint-Menoux which we wrote about earlier this week, and was once a holding of the abbey there. The population is 363 and if Wikipedia is to be believed the population is almost perfectly divided politically – 13 voters are registered to the miscellaneous right parties, 12 to the centrists, and 12 more to the left.

Notre Dame d’Agonges dominates the main square of the town and features a three-story bell tower that was built somewhat later than the rest of the building. The top two levels have open arches while the bottom level features blind arches.

Notre Dame d'Agonges, Agonges (Allier)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Notre Dame d’Agonges, Agonges (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The church interior consists of a nave with a transept with apses. There are no side aisles so the groin vaults are supported by columns on the side walls, supported by ogive transverse arches.

Nave looking west, Notre Dame d’Agonges, Agonges (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

Nave looking west, Notre Dame d’Agonges, Agonges (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

The apse dates from the third quarter of the 12th century and was built in classic Romanesque style. The lantern crossing is covered with a groin vault supported by four columns adorned with capitals. The apse itself has three windows and is topped by an oven vault.

Apse, Notre Dame d’Agonges, Agonges (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

Apse, Notre Dame d’Agonges, Agonges (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

In this next shot we see the door to the south portal which is the main entry to the church at this time. Also visible are the engaged columns used to support the vaulting.

South door, Notre Dame d’Agonges, Agonges (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

South door, Notre Dame d’Agonges, Agonges (Allier) Photo by PJ McKey

There is interesting sculptural detail at Notre Dame d’Agonges. On the south face is sequence of hunting figures and the interior capitals are quite eccentric. Despite being built during the maturity of Romanesque architecture, some of the capitals are quite primitive. This capital, known as the “Masque,” is most likely the simple representation of face given the figure on the right.

Chancel capital with mask, Notre Dame d’Agonges, Agonges (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Chancel capital with masque, Notre Dame d’Agonges, Agonges (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

There are two possible reasons that for this – the church was not associated with the major religious orders of the time but was built as a parish church, which meant limited funds to hire artisans; or possibly that some of these are re-used capitals from other sites. This second explanation may be the case because an inspection of the entire ensemble makes it clear that this is not a homogenous set of sculptures.

Chancel capital with faces, Notre Dame d’Agonges, Agonges (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Chancel capital with faces, Notre Dame d’Agonges, Agonges (Allier) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

There is an interesting tale associated with this church. There was a 12th century wooden statue of the Virgin and Child in the church and the people of Agonges decided to replace it with newer, more elegant version. They set the new statue in the place of honor and put the old Vierge in a corner. The next day the old statue was in the place of honor again and the new on the ground. The sexton replaced the new statue and put the old one into a cupboard. The next day the old Vierge had disappeared completely.

Some days later, a shepherd found it in a hollow of a cave and returned it to the church. But the Vierge was no longer content in the church that had rejected her at Agonges and disappeared again, never to return. A plague desolated the region and the faithful were at a loss of what to do. Some time later a shepherd found the statue of the Vierge in the midst of a thicket of thorns in the forest of Briailles near Saint Pourçain, seven or eight miles away. The people of the nearby town of Chazeuil built a chapel to house the Vierge and for centuries the people of Agonges came to venerate her, penitent, to make amends. Notre Dame de la Ronde de Chazeuil remains today in her private chapel.

Notre-Dame De La Ronde de Chazeuil, Photo by Mme Dulac, Lieux Sacrés

Notre-Dame De La Ronde de Chazeuil, Photo by Mme Dulac, Lieux Sacrés

Location: 46.606323° 3.157217°

2 responses to “The Forsaken Madonna of Agonges (Dennis Aubrey)

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