Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire Abbey greets visitors near Orleans in central France
Church is site of fascinating Romanesque and Gothic sculpture
Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire Abbey is a beautiful as well as significant church on the Loire River, which is close to Orléans in central France. The site has remained a major place of pilgrimage since 673, ever since the relics of St. Benedict were brought there from Montecassino. The church features 11th- and 12th-century architecture, and has a large collection of interesting Romanesque and Gothic sculpture.
The Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire Abbey features 11th- and 12th-century architecture, and has a large collection of interesting Romanesque and Gothic sculpture.
The abbey is located in a pleasant village of about 2,000 people close to a bend of the Loire River, 25 miles east of Orléans. The fields to the southeast proffer a good general view of the church.
From the west, where there is parking and an open plaza. Visitors to the church first come upon the large Tour de Gauzlin, named for the abbot who commissioned it. The boxy west "porch-tower" was begun in 1020, but was probably not finished until the 11th century.
The lower level serves as a porch for the west entrance, while the taller upper level houses the Chapel of St. Michael, which is not open to the public. There was once a third level, but this was removed in the 16th century and replaced by the present roof and belfry in the 17th century.
Of particular interest is the tower, which is a model of the New Jerusalem as described in Revelation 21. "And it had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates... on the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates."
The columns of the narthex are decorated with interesting Romanesque capitals. One Corinthian-style capital bears the inscription: UNBERTUS ME FECIT, which translates as "Unbertus (the master sculptor) made me."
The sculptural subjects include:
* Biblical scenes such as the Annunciation and Flight into Egypt
* Scenes from Revelation including the Seven Seals and Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (fitting with the architectural theme of the New Jerusalem)
* The glorification of St. Martin of Tours
* Symbolic scenes of temptation and sin
* Foliage interspersed with occasional human figures
A look on the left side of the church shows intriguing Romanesque reliefs set into the tower wall, coupled with a fine Gothic north portal of the early 13th century. The sculptures are of very high quality and retain some traces of their original paint.
The nave and side aisles are later than the rest of the church date from the late 12th century. The nave vault is a Gothic addition of the early 13th century and may have previously had a wooden roof.
The north aisle is home to an interesting discovery made during restoration of the north portal: an unfinished sculpture ensemble of the Virgin and Child with eight saints, dating from the mid-12th century. Only the Madonna in the center and a few of the figures on the far right were completed, providing an interesting glimpse into the process used by medieval sculptors.
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