Église Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Dennis Aubrey)


We discovered the town of Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère in the Vienne quite by accident. We were staying in Montmorillon for three days, about 25 miles away, but this was not the means of discovery. We were visiting our lifelong friend Thérése Gayet in Vivonne and while dining at her house she told us about the church a mere ten miles away. Since it was still mid-afternoon we decided to visit the church, so we crossed the Clain River from her compound at Danlot, traversing the iron bridge made by Gustav Eiffel. Then we drove through the farms and back roads to Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère.

What we discovered was an interesting Romanesque church set in the middle of small town of 1300 inhabitants, but, uncharacteristically, with a great deal of open space around it. The church was originally founded in the late 11th and early 12th century as a priory on a site that had been a parish since Carolingian times.

Inside it is composed of a nave and two side aisles both of which are almost the same height. This is unusual because usually the side aisle vaulting is used to offset the lateral pressures of the ogive nave vault. I think that the steep angle of the nave vault is the reason that this was not necessary.

It is not apparent in the center aisle shot here, but if you look at the plan it shows that the nave is not rectangular, but trapezoidal. I believe this has something to do with the erection of the fortified tower in the 14th century.

Nave, Église Saint Maurice, Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Vienne) Photo by PJ Aubrey

The nave elevation shows the massive transept crossing which was built to hold the fortified tower that dominates the exterior of the church. This crossing leads to the nave and side aisles on the west. It is also possible to see that all of the lighting for the nave comes from the windows of the side aisles.

Nave elevation, Église Saint Maurice, Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Vienne) Photo by PJ Aubrey

Trefoil pattern

The distinguishing characteristic of the church is an arrangement of the apsidal chapels in a manner usually referred to as “trefoil” but as you can see from the plan below, it is not really accurate. Each side is part of the trefoil pattern. What is true is that, along with the Église Saint Sulpice in Marignac, Saint Maurice is the only church in the region where there is an apsidal chapel not only echeloned on the side of the apse, but also at the end of each transept. This is very clear from a study of the ground plan.

Plan, Église Saint Maurice, Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Vienne)

PJ’s shot of the transept taken from the nave shows the echeloned chapel and the transept chapel on the north side. We can also see the finally decorated capitals on the engaged column in the foreground, in this case opposed lions.

Nave to transept, Église Saint Maurice, Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Vienne) Photo by PJ Aubrey

From the photograph of the chevet from the northeast, we can clearly see the rounded transept chapel on the left, the tucked-in echeloned chapel and the apse. The sculptural decoration is quite nice. Each window is framed by an arch supported by a pair of slender columns with decorative capitals extending to the ground. Above on the second level are paired smaller blind arches supported by three columns with capitals. The contreforts in the form of engaged columns that divide the different spans give a fine rhythmic sense to the external architecture.

We can also appreciate the massive fortified tower that was built in the 14th century for defensive purposes.

Chevet, Église Saint Maurice, Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The choir is composed of two short bays and a semicircular oven vault. The apse is lit by five windows arrayed in a semicircle on the curved wall.

Apse, Église Saint Maurice, Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Vienne) Photo by PJ Aubrey

The glory of the oven vault is the Gothic painting of Christ in Majesty. Christ is shown with a globe in his left hand while his right hand is raised in a sign of benediction. Around this figure is a quadrilobe with the symbols of the Evangelists.

Oven vault fresco, Église Saint Maurice, Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Saint Maurice has a decorated 13th century north portal with archivolts featuring griffins and plants.

North portal, Église Saint Maurice, Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The inner arch features griffins juxtaposed back to back but turned toward each other. The central arch shows floral patterns. Both the first and second arches has been heavily restored.

Archivolt detail, Église Saint Maurice, Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The outer arch seems to be original and shows palm leaves.

Outer archivolt detail, Église Saint Maurice, Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

There are capitals on the columns on either side of the portal. That on the right side feature birds with their heads aligned – one from the center panel and the other from a side panel. The capital on the left side is the same except that it features what I believe to be lions.

Capital, Église Saint Maurice, Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Danlot, Vivonne (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Thérése Gayet, by the way, is in many ways responsible not only for our introduction to Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère but also for Via Lucis itself. She and her husband Jean used to take the Aubrey clan to see the area around our home in Poitiers. We visited Angles-sur-Anglin, Lussac-les-Chateaux, Chauvigny, Lusignan, Civray, Oradour-sur-Glane, and so many other places with them as they were determined to make sure that we appreciated where we lived. And most important, about 35 years ago she took me to the Église Sainte Radegonde in Poitiers, which was her parish church growing up. We climbed to every height and depth of that church together and it was mesmerizing to me. I loved all the trips that we made with them and have owed them a debt of gratitude for the last half-century of my life. Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère is just one more mark on the debit side of the ledger.

Location: 46.376722º 0.41040946º

6 thoughts on “Église Saint-Maurice-la-Clouère (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Most grateful for your link to your post on the church of Ste Radegonde. Brought back memories of a visit I made some years ago. I have to admit I did not take in all the details then which are so beautifully depicted in your photos. I seem to have missed so much – I just remember going down into the crypt and probably failed to look up!

    1. Elizabeth, PJ can always be counted on to find the unusual in these churches. She is forever wandering, looking, and going to the most remote corners of the church. She is convinced that every view was “considered” by the builders and she has been proven right over and over. Second, here is a link to all of the churches in France for which we have written articles. It is on the main menu in “Featured Churches” which also has sections for Spain and Germany.

  2. PS Being a relative newcomer to your blog I realise that I have an enormous amount to catch up on. Please carry on the links with your previous postings.

    1. Marc, your comments are very welcome here. Went to your website and spent some time admiring your own work (I see you photographed Plaimpied!). Like us, you have a rich and rewarding photographic specialty. Your ballet work is stunning. PJ and I spent some time looking and admiring … and barely made a dent in all that you have done. We will be back!

      1. Many thanks, Dennis.
        It’s wonderful to see that more people are so committed to photographing and commenting our European medieval heritage. There aren’t that many who bother, let alone photograph it with such command of technique and art. You got thousands of landscape or portrait photographers, but who does gothic cathedrals or romanesque churches? Or ballet, for that matter. I will be back here too.

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