Église Saint-Sulpice de Secqueville-en-Bessin (Dennis Aubrey)


Normandy is a treasure-trove of Romanesque churches built after the Duchy of Normandy passed into the hands of the Norse invaders by the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte in 911. Much of the Viking’s marauding fervor seems to have spent itself in rebuilding the churches that they had so energetically destroyed in the preceding century.

The Église Saint-Sulpice de Secqueville-en-Bessin was one of theose churches, attached to the important Abbaye aux Hommes built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror at Caen. The church was severely damaged in 1105 during the war of succession between Robert Courteheuse and Henry I of England, the sons of William the Conqueror.

The church still preserves the original nave. The transepts and superb three-level crossing tower are 12th century and the fleche dates from the 13th century. The bays of the tower deserve attention; we can see the first level has three large arches. The two outside arches are blind and the central is open. The second level has three smaller open arches, and the third has two open arches, centered on the three of the second level. The is a massive ensemble for such a small church, and certainly owes its origin to the parent church in Caen.

Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Saint Sulpice has a simple, almost Ottonian interior. The nave’s two-story elevation consists of the round arcade arches and clerestory windows. The nave is finished with a wooden barrel vault.

Nave, Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Looking through the solid piers of the chancel crossing, we can also see the sculpted arches outlining the clerestory windows.

Nave elevation through crossing arch, Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by PJ McKey

Nave elevation through crossing arch, Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by PJ McKey

The side aisles are among the most attractive features of the church and also have wooden vaults for covering. The square piers that support the arcade have engaged columns on the east and west faces to take the springing of the arch, each topped with a simplistic figurative capital. In this shot we can also see the carved stone pulpit opening onto the nave.

Side aisle, Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by PJ McKey

Side aisle, Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by PJ McKey

The apse was rebuilt in the 17th century in the Romanesque style, though quite without adornment. This section fits a bit oddly with the earlier structure. The interior arches of the choir are round, but the arches to the exterior windows are ogive and Gothic. There is a narrow side chapel echeloned on each side of the choir.

Apse, Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse, Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This open side chapel is separated from the altar only by a pair of arches. The chapels run the length of the choir and the crossing.

Side chapel, Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by PJ McKey

Side chapel, Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by PJ McKey

The importance of the Église Saint-Sulpice was was well known, and the church was classified by the Monuments Historiques in 1840.

Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Église Saint-Sulpice, Secqueville-en-Bessin (Calvados) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

We are lucky to have the church at Secqueville-en-Bessin in so complete a state. On June 6, 1944 the Canadian army landed at Juno Beach. A day later, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles entered Secqueville and from that time forward in the Battle of Normandy, the town was part of the desperate fight for Caen. The next day, June 8, the Rifles were overrun by two battalions of the 12th SS Panzer Division at Putot-en-Bessin, just over a mile away, but Secqueville’s church and its precious tour clocher survived the battle. One of the smallest British cemeteries in the region contains the graves of 117 soldiers who did not survive the advance to Caen in July, 1944.

Location: 49.236254° -0.526740°

8 responses to “Église Saint-Sulpice de Secqueville-en-Bessin (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. A wonderful survival by any standards – and so bright inside! It’s a pity that nineteenth century revivalist architects didn’t make more use of this model for their church designs. That tower and flech are splendid by any standards. The elegant simplicity of the interior makes it an especially attractive church.

    • Tony, it is a great survivor and the tower is a masterpiece. I wish my photos would have done it justice. Just one more reason to return and spend some more time there. Speaking of survivors, am preparing a most on Lessay – a church that came back from oblivion after WWII.

  2. Thank you Dennis for some beautiful photos of a wonderful church . In Chester , we have a link with Normandy through Hugh Lupus , Viscount of Avranches . I have done research about his family and visited may very beautiful and interesting places but not Secqueville and shall make a point to go next time I am in Normandy

  3. I live in Secqueville en Bessin and I would like to thank you for giving such a beautiful tribute to our church. I am preparing our next “Journees du Patrimoine” and the church will be opened to anyone during two days on September 19 and 20, 2015. You are most welcomed of course.

    • Sophie, am very glad that you like the post. We found the church to be quite lovely and think about it often. Unfortunately we will not be in France in September, otherwise we would love to visit during the Journees du Patrimoine. One of the things we love most about France are these Journees and the pride the French take in their magnificent patrimony.

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