Come and discover one of the jewels of Romanesque art in the Briance Valley: Solignac Abbey.

A little bit of history

The first mentions of the place of Solemniacum date from around 630. King Dagobert allowed his adviser Saint Eloi, a native of the Limoges region, to have a church built there. The sources concerning the abbey are limited, for the Merovingian period, to copies of the founding charter of the abbey.

SSaint-Pierre de Solignac is at Xe and XI e centuries at the head of a exceptional heritage ; to the XIIe and XIIIe centuries, its land power is at its peak. During the Hundred Years War, the abbey came under English control. The abbey and its furniture were sold as national property in 1791 while the monks dispersed. The buildings successively housed a prison for refractory priests, an institution for young girls, and finally a porcelain factory!

Uarchitecture majestic

An exceptional case in Limousin, the abbey of Solignac is part of a group of churches with rows of domes. Its exterior elevation is majestic, consisting of wide, flat buttresses and columns rising to the roof. The abbey church was built over a long period : the nave during the first half of the twelfthe century the choir et the transept after the fire of 1178 and the porch bell tower at the beginning of the XNUMXthe century.

The choir is made up of an apse with three apsidioles vaulted in a cul-de-four. The current abbey was probably built mainly during the twelfthe century. She was the subject of restaurations in the XVIIe and XVIIIe centuries.

A must see

The reconstruction of the abbey begins in the XVe century, a period when the abbey was adorned with spectacular furnishings with magnificent stalls. These stalls, most often made of wood, were reserved to clerks only. Originally, these compartments were separated from each other by glazing beads, where each religious had to follow the offices standing.

Over time, the prayers become longer and more frequent during the day, forcing the creation of a mobile seat, named mercy (thank you seats). Indeed, the latter allowed the monks to lean on the harness in order to rest their legs when the seat was raised, while giving the appearance of standing!

The superb stalls in Solignac oak were made between 1457 and 1484, when Martial Bony de la Vergne was abbot. They present a magnificent decor in half-relief over their entire composition, with quite unexpected representations of the misericords. Before our amazed eyes appear fun figures, mocking grimacing, even licentious, specific to the profane register.

The carved decoration of Solignac Abbey

The capitals of the first bay of the nave seem somewhat archaic : they present a checkerboard of small cavities or flattened palmettes, the crows sometimes show a feline head, sometimes a kind of modillion "with shavings" or two joined animal heads. 

On the capitals of the other spans, there are masks with raised arms, palmettes, mouths of monsters holding scrolls, and on the bases, winding scrolls and a grimacing cat. In the choir, the capitals may make you shiver: griffins seized by the neck and tail by two men, characters struggling with intertwined snakes are waiting for you.

The Romanesque paintings of Solignac Abbey

At the entrance to the right transept, you can admire a XNUMXth century painting representing Saint Christopher: a painting that freely reproduces the "golden legend" of Jacques de Voragine (XNUMXth century) to which it adds the coats of arms of donors.

At the bottom of the painting, we see a ship, current model in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, unrelated to the legend. A lookout watches the horizon from the top, a passenger seems to be handing something to a sea monster and another passenger seems in rather bad shape. The abbot Martial Bony de La Vergne who had the stalls sculpted is probably one of the donors behind this painting.

Ssources: Medieval Limousin Culture Center

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