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World Heritage # 12: The abbey church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe

As part of a series specially devoted to French sites recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO, we invite you to discover one by one the exceptional French destinations, preserved as heritage of humanity. We continue this series with a site recognized in 1983, the abbey church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe.

Scalled the "Roman Sixtine", the abbey of Saint-Savin located on the edge of the Gartempe in Poitou-Charentes, is a masterpiece of the valley of frescoes. Its ceilings are decorated with numerous wall paintings from the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries. They thus constitute the largest collection of Romanesque paintings in Europe. These works are also in an extraordinary state of conservation. The frescoes in the abbey church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe reveal "the art of representing and painting in the civilization of the medieval Christian West". They are also the witness of "the importance of the image in a monastic building, considered at the time as a major place of education, reflection of the ways of thinking of the Middle Ages".

A particular architecture

The abbey church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe has all the characteristics of a Romanesque church. However, it surprises visitors as soon as they enter due to exceptional volumes of this hall church. The presence of the side naves, the volume of the choir, the height of the ceilings… But also the light entries made possible by the open-topped openings pierced in the walls… All these characteristics offer an elevation and a luminosity that are unusual in Romanesque churches. Another particularity of the building is the presence of a 80th century Gothic spire rebuilt in the XNUMXth century. It rises to nearly XNUMX meters.

Monastic buildings

After the religious wars of the XNUMXth century, the'abbey church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe is intact, but the convent buildings are in ruins. The sacristy, the chapter house, the refectory, the kitchens, the dormitory and the abbot's accommodation will be rebuilt at the instigation of the Benedictine monks of the congregation of Saint-Maur. The local pink and beige limestone will give the whole its clarity and elegance.

Abbey of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe

The importance of decorations

More than 17 meters above the ground, 460 m2 of ceilings are covered with Romanesque paintings. A real picture book 168 meters long and 2,5 meters high. The set traces biblical scenes from Genesis and Exodus. The creation, the fall, the stories of Abel and Cain, Enoch, the flood, the tower of Babel, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Moses adorn the ceiling of the abbey church.

In the XNUMXth century, these works could well have disappeared. Indeed, the roof let the rainwater run off. The mayor then decided to have the ceilings coated. This is Prosper Merimee, inspector of historical monuments, who will save the frescoes by ordering restorations from 1836. He will also have the building classified as a Historic Monument in 1840.

The decorated crypt of the abbey of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe

Another treasure of the abbey church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe is located under the apse. The vaulted barrel vaulted ceiling of a small crypt measuring 9 meters by 5 is covered with 45 linear meters of magnificent and remarkably preserved frescoes, retracing the life and martyrdom of Savin and Cyprien.

Saint-Savin today

The one we now call the daring welcomes many visitors each year. Celebrations, highlights, free, guided or theatrical tours as well as a rich cultural program allow visitors to discover the serenity, beauty and richness of this surprising place. Do not wait any longer to book your visit and come and admire the major works of the abbey of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe.