Thursday, July 12, 2012

Church of Saint-Pierre-Toirac

As we begin to explore the interior of the fortified church in St.Pierre-Toirac, let me share that it is very dark inside. The high, narrow windows, while good for defending the church and villagers against marauding armies, are not so good for photographers. In the spirit of full disclosure, some of my photos of the interior details have been 'fixed' by Picasa using its auto-contrast option. I like this better than using my flash which always makes things a funny color and takes away most of the depth of the details.

According to information available as you enter the church, building began in the late 12th or early 13th century. Major alterations to the structure occurred between the 14th and 17th centuries. This is the period of fortification against armies engaged in the Hundred Year's War (between the French and English) and the Wars of Religion (between Catholic and Protestant factions). In style, the church is a unique blend of both the old Romanesque style and the emerging Gothic style of church architecture.
Gothic ribbed vault, a type of barrel vaulting
Romanesque columns and carved capitals.

Saint Roch is a popular saint in this part of France...probably because he was a 'local boy.'   Born c. 1348 in Montpellier, France, Saint Roch nursed victims of the plague in Italy before dying in prison, accused of being a spy. He is typically shown in pilgrim garb, displaying a plague lesion on his thigh. He is invoked to cure the plague,cholera and other epidemics, and to cure skin diseases. He's also the patron saint of dogs.

I've already shared the mystery of the tiny door outside the church which I can find no evidence of opening into the interior. The church body is in the shape of a very tall tower that appears to be open at the top. This was part of the addition to fortify the structure. In other fortified churches, this open area was large enough to hold the entire village if necessary. I can find no access to this tower. Has the opening been filled in? Is there a stairway hidden someplace? There also appears to be an addition on the south side of the church (see photo below) built in 1827. Why was this built when there was already an entrance to the church? I'd also like to find out if the church was ever used as a fort or safe haven for the villagers especially since my reading revealed that in the 1370's, major battles were fought in both Figeac, a few kms upriver, and also in Balaguier d'Olt, directly across the river from St. Pierre-Toirac. The invaders, called routiers, were supported by neither England nor France. A peace treaty signed in 1360 put hundreds of professional soldiers out of work. These soldiers banded together to form companies that pillaged, murdered and over-ran vulnerable towns and villages, setting up their own war garrisons in the process. Did they cross over into 'our' side of the Lot as they marauded? Lots of mysteries and questions to answer!


  1. Fascinating. Thank you for this insight into local medieval history and for the great photos.

  2. I am very interested in seeing more pitures of the area and hearing more of the history. My last name is Toirac. My grandmother traveled to the Toirac castle in the 70's. I grew up hearing the stories of our ancestors leaving the area due to pursecution. This is wonderful history!!

  3. I wish I knew more of the history of this area. The Chateau at Larroque Toirac is open now during the summer for tourists. I didn't make it this year, but it's on my to-do list. I'd love to hear any of your family stories about the area