Saint Peter in Chains at Le Dorat – Dennis Aubrey


One of our main objectives for the 2015 trip to France was to photograph the Romanesque churches of the Limousin, a region through which we pass almost every year but have never photographed despite its well-known riches. We planned to do so two years ago but it didn’t work out. Last year it was scheduled but my illness prevented us from shooting there. So finally we decided to make it the centerpiece of our work in France this last June. We spent six days there, staying in a farmhouse in a hameau called Vedrenne, seven miles north of Limoges. We identified eleven “must photograph” churches for those six days, but top of the list was the 12th century Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens in Le Dorat, built on the site of one of the oldest Christian monuments in France, gifted by Clovis I in 507. After the Battle of Vouillé near Poitiers where he defeated the Visigoths under Alaric II, Clovis, the first Christian king of France and founder of the Merovingian dynasty, stopped at the town of Scotoriac to give thanks. An oratory was founded in remembrance of his victory.

Crossing tower, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne), Photo ©chollet-ricard Photo provided by Panoramio is under the copyright of their owners

Crossing tower, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne), Photo ©chollet-ricard Photo provided by Panoramio is under the copyright of their owners

I had studied the church in photographs and in descriptions, but nothing prepared us for what we found when we stepped inside. Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens is one of the most imposing churches we have seen in France, 77 meters long, almost 40 meters across the transepts. The fact that it was fortified in the 14th century lends to its massive appearance, but the interior itself is gigantic. When we first walked into the church, PJ remarked that it was easy to understand how the massively constructed church had survived the centuries of turmoil in the region.

The shot from the raised narthex (a feature shared with the nearby Abbatiale Saint Pierre et Saint Paul in Solignac) shows the extreme length of the church. Made of grey granite and laid out as a latin cross, the church is classic Romanesque – a vaulted nave with two side aisles, large transepts and crossing, and a raised apse with an ambulatory and three radiating chapels. The barrel vault in the nave is slightly ogive with bands springing from engaged columns on the arcade piers. These columns are topped with decorative capitals. In the foreground we can see the large Carolingian baptismal font, although “font” is probably the wrong word. This is a large pink granite tank that was used for baptism by immersion.

Nave, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Nave, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The narthex at street level opens on the nave below. In this case, the narthex is quite high – twelve steps in a monumental staircase from the western portal down to the nave.

Narthex from nave, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey

Narthex from nave, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey

The length of the church is emphasized in the narrow side aisles, seen here from above in the narthex. These aisles are covered with groin vaults and lit by windows in each bay. These side aisle windows provide the only light in the long nave since there are no clerestory openings.

South side aisle, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

South side aisle, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The crossing supports a dome below Le Dorat’s signature octagonal staged lantern tower. The dome is supported by pendentives that spring from the cluster of pillars at each corner of the crossing.

Crossing dome, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Crossing dome, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The apse is covered with an oven vault and features a fine ambulatory with a hemicycle of three large arches and two smaller ones separating the altar from the radiating chapels. The altar is currently in the center of the crossing and not in the apse as would have been the case originally. The large 19th century organ can be seen on the south side.

Apse, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In the ambulatory we see the radiating chapels that project from the apse. We can also see the fine capitals that decorate the hemicycle columns. The curved groin vaulting that tops the ambulatory was apparently one of the most difficult feats of engineering in Romanesque times and was the result of intuition and approximation rather than following a formal pattern of construction. The example we see here at Le Dorat is one of the most elegant, eschewing the clumsy vault intersections that flaw so many others of this style.

Ambulatory, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey

Ambulatory, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey

PJ’s photo from the center of the ambulatory looking west to the transept and nave gives a wonderful sense of scale and precision that are hallmarks of this fine church. It also gives a good view of the windows in the drum of the crossing dome that flood that section of the church with natural light. This natural light is a feature that we as photographers treasure – there is little that we detest more that gigantic modern lighting fixtures that dominate the visuals in other churches, as our next post of Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat will amply demonstrate. In Le Dorat, there are almost no modern fixtures at all – only the small unobtrusive speakers on the pillars.

Crossing and nave from ambulatory, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey

Crossing and nave from ambulatory, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey

There is some fine sculpture in the church as well. The capitals are carved in a mix of white limestone, granite and green serpentine (a volcanic stone from the region). One of the granite capitals features beasts and snakes devouring a man who is suspended upside down.

Beasts and snakes devouring a man, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Beasts and snakes devouring a man, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This capital with the leafed mask shows how the sculptors were successful in working the hard granite stone. There are no fine details but instead there is a bold repeating design.

Leafed mask capital, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Leafed mask capital, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In this shot of the ambulatory looking back at the north side aisle, we can see the steps that lead down from the raised choir to the side aisles and nave. Notice the superb stonework in the walls and windows, further indications of the great care taken in building the church.

Ambulatory to side aisle, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey

Ambulatory to side aisle, Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens, Le Dorat (Haute-Vienne) Photo by PJ McKey

The Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens was all that we had hoped for and more. It would have been nice if we could have photographed the exterior with some success,but there was a flat grey sky with some drizzling rain and we had no luck. We were also not able to gain entrance to the interesting 11th century crypt with its own ambulatory giving access to a central altar. This just means that we have another reason to return to Le Dorat and photograph this magnificent structure once again.

Location: 46.214124° 1.082369°

11 responses to “Saint Peter in Chains at Le Dorat – Dennis Aubrey

    • Michael, interesting that I hadn’t really noticed the mold, so taken was I by the church both when shooting and editing. Now that you have mentioned it, I see the mold everywhere.

      • Did not seem damp or humid while we were shooting. The day was cool and the church has three main entrances, all of which are kept open. When we talk about the church in Uzerche, we will talk about what may be the church with the worst conditions that we have ever seen.

  1. What a magnificent church! To me, thew beauty of the building far supersedes the mold. Look at the big picture!

    • Kalli, it is magnificent. There is so much there that our post doesn’t even talk about the exterior, the clocher, the western portal, and the crypt. We are looking forward to returning.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your fabulous photos! They educate me, inspire me and enhance my enjoyment of places I will never see in person.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s