Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Pre-Romanesque Church

You may remember this photo of the pre-Romanesque church in Toulongergues from a blog post I did last summer. Edith and I visited it after reading in a tourist brochure that it is one of the oldest churches in SW France. We had to be content to wander around its exterior that day last August as the church was locked up tightly. When I looked over the brochure for this year's weekend of patrimoine in my area, I was thrilled to see that this ancient church would be open for a guided tour on Sunday afternoon. I quickly put it on my itinerary.

Toulongergues is a tiny commune located 5 kms from Villeneuve in the Aveyron department. Its pre-Romanesque church, Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, dates from the 10th century. A group of 40 gathered outside the building and at 2:30 pm the tour began. We learned that the cross-shaped area over the entry door was probably open at one time and held the church bell. This front facade may also have held a high window above the door that would have lit the choir area as the sun set in the west.
Here you can see the outline of the 'cemetery' door on the south side of the building. After a funeral, the coffin exited the church through this door. The area where we are standing and the east side of the church was the cemetery. Skeletons found here have been dated to the Merovingian era (500-800 C.E.) indicating that there may have been a structure here that pre-dates the 10th century church.

This photo taken from the Priory next to the church shows a filled in opening on the church's north facade. At one time, the Priory was connected to the church via a bridge here and staircase down into the building. Making it handy for the priest to get from home to work without getting his shoes dirty.
The interior of the church is very rough. It's been cleaned up, but not restored. Here you can see the entry with some steep stone stairs down into the nave. The excavated area held a stone sarcophagus of an unknown person. The stairway from the Priory would have been on the landing.
The church building pre-dates vaulted ceilings. This church had a timbered roof without vaults in the interior.
Interestingly, roofs in this area are a mix of roof styles from the Lot and the Averyon depatments. Here you see traditional Lotois tiles on the highest part of the roof with Aveyronais stone lauzes along the lower edge.
The actual flat floor space of the interior was surprisingly small. Our group of 40 did not all fit on it with some people standing on the steps around its edges to hear our guide speak. But as she explained, there was not a village here when this church was built. It served serfs and nobles who lived on widely scattered holdings in the area. It probably was used mainly for marriages, baptisms and funerals and was not regularly attended for Mass.

The most intriguing part of this wonderful ancient church, however, were its 11th century frescoes. You'll see those in my next blog post.

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