Just five miles northwest of Saumur on the picturesque Loire River lies the small village of Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux, part of commune of Chênehutte-Trèves-Cunault. Chênehutte was the site of a Gaulish oppidum and later an important Roman camp that bivouacked half a legion, or around 3,000 men. The camp sat on a hill overlooking the Loire and guarded the road from Angers to Tours. Given this history, the name “Chênehutte” always makes me think of the native huts of the Gauls, made of oak (“hutte” and “chêne”), and of the character Astérix, written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo.
What a wonderful vision and it makes plenty of sense, but the notion is completely wrong; we’ll have to look elsewhere for historical evidence of the little warrior! The name comes from Carnonensis, the Roman name, transformed into Canahutia in the 11th century. Just a few hundred yards from the Roman military camp is the Romanesque church, Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux. The church owes its name to the meadows bordering the adjacent river Loire.
This bulk of the church was built in the 11th century church with the local limestone. The apse, belltower and side door are 12th century. One enters from the north portal and we immediately see the simple arcades supported by columns with large decorated capitals. Above is the high barrel vault spanning the narrow nave. There is no clerestory level so the interior is quite dark.
The east end of the church features an apse and two echeloned chapels at the end of the side aisle. The apse is preceded by a chancel crossing beneath the clocher. The choir is composed of a single bay topped with a barrel vault and a cul-de-four vault at the far end. This last section is pierced with four windows.
The side aisles are narrow with a tall window in each bay of the arcade providing the only interior light to the nave. Each side aisle is covered with a half-barrel vault. In the distance we see the side chapel on the south side of the apse.
In this view of the north side aisle we see the chapel at the end and the choir in the distance. We can also see just how narrow this small church is, just the right size for the small community of Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux where it serves as the parish church. This explains how well-founded the church remains to this day.
The north portal is the main entrance of the church. I believe that this was a 19th century contribution where the west portal was moved stone-by-stone to this new location, but I haven’t gotten confirmation of that yet.
Notre-Dame-de-la-Prée-de-Tuffeaux is an almost textbook example of the Angevin parish church that still remain in the region, the center of that dynastic power in the Middle Ages. Small and elegant, it is a reminder that it was not only monks who built the Romanesque churches, but the lay faithful as well.
And now for a little confession – it may be a stretch to have this post open with a picture of Astérix, but he was one of my first comic book heroes. When we lived in Chauvigny, I would have my hair cut at a small barbershop on the square in the middle of town. It was much different that the factory-like military barbers we frequented most of my life. The shop walls were painted a baby blue and the interior had a wonderful perfumed air. But most important, the owners provided an unending supply of comics featuring Astérix and his pal, Obélix.
Location: 47.307803° -0.152978°