Vigeois is about 35 miles almost due south of Limoges just four miles from the medieval town of Uzerche. The commune is small, about 1500 inhabitants but is home to one of the remarkable churches in the region and one of the important visits we planned to make in the Limousin. The church, Abbaye Saint-Pierre du Vigeois, is known less for its church than for its adornments. The church is 12th century but it lost its nave. The only Romanesque remnants are the east end, the apse and transepts. The nave was rebuilt in the 19th century.
The original nave was replaced in the 19th century; all that remains of the original church are the eastern portions, the transept and choir. The choir is interesting in that it has radiating chapels but no ambulatory like we have seen in Souillac, Cahors and nearby Solignac.
The apse is covered with an oven vault and lit by a series of seven windows above the hemicycle arcade. The arcade is composed alternately of bays and blind arches. Each bay has a small window and the blind arches have large windows, adding to the abundance of light in the choir.
The 19th century nave consists of two bays and is covered with an ogive barrel vault, supported by bands springing from pilasters on the north and south walls. The western wall is flat and plain, but all of these late additions fit well with the 12th century construction of the east end.
Vigeois also has a number of large and fine paintings adorning the walls. Normally these paintings would be found in dark side aisles, but at Saint-Pierre they are displayed on the open walls of the nave and transepts. One of the finest is an oil painting by Georges-Jean-Marie Haquette dating from 1884 called Le Salut au Calvaire. Four fisherman can be seen working their boat below a crucifix on the hill above them. The sky is dark and threatening and the seas turbulent, but they are bathed in the glow of sunlight. This painting, as all of the others in the church, was restored in 2002-2003 by Bruno Tilmant d’ Auxy, who has an atelier de restauration d’oeuvres d’art at Chateau Chervix about 35 miles from Vigeois.
There is a fine 17th century French oil called Le Calvaire. This moody depiction of the crucifixion shows the agonizing crucifixion isolated in bright light. The painting has a perfect setting on the expansive wall of the transept, lit by the large window on the exterior wall.
But the real artistic masterpieces of Vigeois are the capitals from the second quarter of the 12th century that are found both inside and outside of the church. There is a complete iconographic program at work here, but I will just show a couple of examples.
One of the interior capitals is a very interesting rendition of the temptation of Christ. First of all, Christ appears in a mandorla, indicative of his power and glory. On the right a monstrous-headed demon with clawed feet tempts him. On the left is an angel. This is an illustration of the First Temptation of Christ described in Matthew 4: “Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'” Notice that Jesus has a book opened on his lap, his only defense against the tempter. It is said that this book is open to Deuteronomy 8:3 which reads, “And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.”
There is a wonderful “Weighing of souls” capital on the exterior, with all of the elements that would be familiar to a medieval viewer. The soul of the candidate hovers between the demon and the angel. The angel holds the scales with the good and bad deeds in the balance, but the demon, as always, cheats by placing his hand on the scale trying to shift the balance to damnation. While not as dramatic as the Conques “Weighing of souls”, it is still a wonderful piece of narrative sculpture.
The north wall of the church contains a fine polylobed portal with fine sculptural detail. The left-hand capital features paired lions and the right are the figures of Saints Peter and Paul in mandorla. The top two lobes of the portal repeat the theme of paired lions.
While it is interesting to speculate what treasures the western end of the church might have contained, we have to content ourselves with the wonderful remnants in the apse and transepts.
Location: 45.379325° 1.515883°