It always astonishes me how little we remember of all the churches that we shoot. Today’s example is the Église Saint-Étienne de Lubersac in the Limousin, part of a group of eleven churches that we photographed last June. This was an incredibly rich area of exploration with eleven major churches including the Collégiale Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens in Le Dorat, the Collégiale Saint-Junien de Saint-Junien, and the Abbatiale Saint Pierre et Saint Paul in Solignac. Somehow PJ and I had both forgotten this church in Lubersac until a few weeks ago when we were looking for a subject on which to post. Both of us were immediately struck by the excellence both of the architecture and especially the sculpture. Today we make amends for this oversight.
I started shooting the exterior, especially the sculptures on the life of Saint-Etienne. But the south portal is also quite a fine piece of work – simple but with elegant Mozarabic scalloping of the portal.
The original church on this site was built around 950 on the site of an ancient temple and was dedicated to Saint Gervais and Saint Protais, second century Milanese martyrs. In the 12th century, the priory church took the name Saint-Étienne, but was pillaged and destroyed at the end of that century. In the beginning of the 13th century, the church that we see today was built.
The nave consisted of two bays covered with banded barrel vaults. The round arcade arches open on to the side aisles with their large windows that flood the interior with light.
In the 14th century the nave was supplemented with two more bays, this time covered with wooden ceilings. We can see this clearly in PJ’s photo from the choir loft.
In the nave elevation of the 14th century additions we can see that there are no true side aisles and no windows opening to the exterior. Instead, these arcade openings are used to frame some of the large modern paintings that adorn the church.
The simple apse consists of an oven-vaulted semicircular structure with three large windows and a blind arch on each side. The apse is separated from the barrel vaulted choir by a transverse arch. The choir continues the motif of the blind arch with a pair of blind arcades.
In the photo of the apse from the transept, we can clearly see the blind arch, as well as the capitals decorating the transverse arch. Also, we can see the oldest fresco in the church, a 13th century painting of Saint Léonard freeing a prisoner. As readers of the article on Saint Léonard de Noblat may remember, Saint Léonard was the patron saint of prisoners and was much venerated in the Limousin region. Also note the double columns supporting the transept arch.
In the first bay of the 14th century expansion, on the south side, the arcade is used as a monument for a wonderful medieval sarcophagus. We can also see fragments of stone capitals hidden behind, fragments that we can only hope will someday be restored.
We have already discussed the exterior sculpture of Saint-Étienne in a previous post. The stoning of Saint Steven is depicted in a series of capitals on the exterior and the workmanship was quite fine. The interior sculpture is just as distinguished as we can see from this image of the Adoration of the Magi in the nave. The comprehensive set of capitals inside primarily document the life of Jesus from the nativity to the crucifixion.
There is an interesting note about the derivation of the town name. It was originally called Louparsat, lou percé in Limousin, meaning “pierced wolf” after a story of a knight who killed a wolf with a blow of his sword to save his beloved.
Location: 45.444185 1.401842