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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Saint Maurice has a decorated 13th century north portal with archivolts featuring griffins and plants.
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.
The outer arch seems to be original and shows palm leaves.
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.
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