The churches of Saintonge have magnificent portals with the arches divided into three or four voussoirs and covered in innumerable motifs; acanthus leaves, palms, roses, scrolls, cables inspired by Gallo-Roman tradition, embroidery or weaving. The central portal is often flanked by two false bays suggesting the entrance to side-aisles, and the faÃ§ade has several storeys of decoration, separated by a cornice. The Benedictine Abbaye-aux-Dames in Saintes is the most elegant example of the Romanesque Style in this magnificent city. The Basilica of Saint-Eutrope has a moving crypt housing the tomb of Eutrope, the great Saint of Saintonge.
The churches of Saintonge, cousins of those of Poitou, have their own particular characteristics; they usually have a solitary nave, vaulted either with a semi-circular barrel-vault, a broken barrel-vault or with domes. There is no transept or ambulatory. Though the ornamentation is less extreme than in Poitou, there are magnificent portals with the arches divided into three or four voussoirs and covered in innumerable motifs; acanthus leaves, palms, roses, scrolls, cables inspired by Gallo-Roman tradition, embroidery or weaving. The central portal is often flanked by two false bays (blind portals) suggesting the entrance to side-aisles, and the façade has several storeys of decoration, separated by a cornice.
"I am in a hopeless country", declared Prosper Mérimée in the 19th century. "The churches are too beautiful; they are all of the same plan, all over the same era. One might even say they were all built by the same architect". Saint-Amant-de-Boixe, Puypérous, Bassac, Chadenac, Ruffec... The churches display their classical heritage and have retained enthusiasm for columns and façades of exquisite proportions, with Hispano-Moorish influence, brought back by the Crusaders. This can be can seen in the infinite variations of ornamentation on the archways.
Saintes was another stage on the road to Santiago de Compostela, and the pilgrim had to visit the Basilica of Saint-Eutrope to pay his respects to the relics of the holy warrior. The huge church of this Cluniac priory was built on the classical Benedictine plan, with a nave, side-aisles, a double ambulatory and many side-altars. Sadly, it has been wrecked by vandalism through the ages. The choir, the transept and the crypt are all of the Romanesque age; this wide, low, squat church gives an extraordinary impression of power and mystery, with the forest of cruciform pillars on round plinths. The moving crypt houses the tomb of Eutrope, the great Saint of Saintonge. The high spire is a Gothic masterpiece.
The Benedictine Abbaye-aux-Dames on the other side of the town is the second religious centre in Saintes. The church that was consecrated in 1047, is the most elegant example of the Romanesque Style of this city, with a sober façade of large arcades repeated on a second storey. A row of little figures on the voussoirs incline their heads so as to fit exactly the curve of the arch; the tower, above the crossing, is crowned with a scaled cone like a pine cone.
The Abbey Church of Saint-Amant-de-Boixe.
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/Eglisevert.jpg?uselang=fr
Church of Saint-Amant-de-Boixe, the bell-tower seen from the south.
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d8/Eglise_de_Saint-Amant-de-Boixe_7.jpg?uselang=fr
Abbey-Church of Saint-Etienne, in Bassac.
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/BassacAbbaye6.JPG?uselang=fr
Church of Saint-Martin in Chadenac.
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/16/F07.Chadenac.0003.JPG?uselang=fr
Church of Saint-Martin in Chadenac. Sculptures of the false bay (blind portal) on the left side.
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Abbaye-aux-Dames in Saintes, south side.
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/F06.Abbaye_aux_Dames_Saintes._2048.jpg
Abbaye-aux-Dames in Saintes, the apse.
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d3/Saintes_Abbaye-aux-Dames_chevet_et_clocher.jpg
The Gothic spire of the Basilica Saint-Eutrope in Saintes.
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/33/Saint_Eutrope_Saintes_2.JPG?uselang=fr
The magnificent crypt of the Basilica Saint-Eutrope in Saintes with the tomb of Eutrope the great Saint of Saintonge.
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Capital with embroidery in the Church of Saint-Eutrope in Saintes.
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/F06.Saint-Eutrope_Saintes._340.jpg?uselang=fr
Basilica of Saint-Eutrope in Saintes.
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/F06.Saint-Eutrope_Saintes.1981.jpg?uselang=fr