There is a basalt rock outcropping dominating the present-day town of Saint-Julien-Chapteuil that lies just to the west. This hill was once crowned by a chateau of a puissant baron of the Auvergne, known to us as the troubadour Pons de Capdeuil, riche, bien fait, bon chevalier d’armes, beau parleur, galant, et sachant également bien trouver, violenter, et chanter. The prize of his chaste, adoring heart was Azelaide Mercoeur, wife of Noisil de Mercoeur, a great baron of Auvergne, of whom he sang the lament of all lovers; Ma belle et douce amie, que j’aime si tendrement, ne sait pas le mal que j’éprouve.
His Provençal biographer Uc de Saint Circ wrote “Il aima d’amour Madame Azalaïs de Mercœur. Tant qu’elle vécut, il n’en aima jamais d’autre, et quand elle fut morte, il se croisa, passa outremer, et y mourut.” “While she lived, he never loved another, and when she was dead, he took the cross and went over the seas and died.”
Equal parts warrior and lover, Pons de Capdeuil died in the Fifth Crusade assault on Jerusalem in 1236. His small town in the highlands of France must have been fertile ground for poets. Louis Henri Jean Farigoule, the poet and writer known as Jules Romains, was born here in 1885. Romains was part of the utopian group Abbaye de Créteil, which also featured the painter Albert Gleize, artistic mentor to our own Angelico Surchamp.
The town under Pons de Capdeuil’s imposing castle was home to an important Benedictine priory that reported directly to the rich and powerful abbey of Chaise-Dieu. The church that we see today was built in the 12th century and modeled after the exterior of the nearby cathedral in Le Puy.
The church was rebuilt substantially in the 17th century because it had fallen into disrepair. The Romanesque arches and vaults were replaced with Gothic substitutions. The church that we see today is fundamentally a normal Auvergnat church except that it lacks a hemicycle, ambulatory and radiating chapels. The church is cruciform in structure with a three-bayed nave and two side aisles.
In the nave elevation we see that the vault springs directly from the arcade arches without a clerestory level. The lighting comes from the side aisle windows only. The arcades are supported by large piers with engaged columns topped by sculpted capitals.
From the side aisles we see the long narrow path to the echeloned chapel in the distance. Each bay of the side aisle is covered with a groin vault that allows for a large window, the only source of natural light in the nave.
The apse of the church is simple, a large central altar with a chapel echeloned on each side. There are no radiating chapels and no ambulatory, just a simple volume with three large windows covered with an oven vault. The windows are from the original Romanesque church.
The two transepts are short and protrude just a short distance out from the echeloned chapels next to the choir. Each of the transepts contains a small chapel.
On the altar is a cryptic 7th century baptismal font. Of unknown origin, the font features a pair of sculpted figures, each within an arched frame. It appears that the left hand figure is a Madonna and Child and the right hand one is a bishop holding a vessel of some kind (perhaps a vial of holy water?). The knot decorations would indicate a Celtic influence to the ensemble.
The church of Saint Julien is all that remains of the priory that once existed here. Because the priory reported directly to the powerful Benedictine abbey at La Chaise-Dieu, there was constant conflict between the Bishop of Le Puy and the prior of Saint-Julien-Chapteuil. Perhaps the monks took respite from the strife and contented themselves with the songs of their poets.
Location: 45.034296° 4.062696°