Exploring the medieval history of Poitou-Charentes

French_Ways_of_St._James.svgPoitou-Charentes has had a turbulent history that has left a rich cultural and architectural heritage. This heritage is best represented by the numerous churches, many of which are Romanesque and served pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela. Over a series of posts, we report on visits to some of these churches in our region.

L’église Notre-Dame de Clussais

EgliseClussaisJust a stone’s throw from Vanzay is Clussais, part of the commune of Clussais-la-Pommeraie. L’église Notre-Dame (Church of Our Lady) stands imposingly overlooking the road approaching from Vanzay. The church dates from the 12th century and according to legend, the church was built by the fairy Mélusine herself.  The Romanesque church in Clussais is a simple sanctuary with archvolt portals decorated with mouldings and a single, broken barrel vault arched nave.  Its construction began in 1067 and was completed at the end of the following century.  What makes it notable are the narrow and long proportions of the nave, supported externally by huge buttresses.

It was seriously damaged during the Hundred Years’ war and then by the Wars of Religion.  From the 15th century onwards, it was attached to the Abbey of Nouaille-Maupertuis (near Poitiers) which undertook its restoration. The presbytery and the two dovecotes were rebuilt in the 18th century.

On the way back to our gîtes you can take a step further back in time by stopping at Pers to visit the cemetery where a 12th century Lanterne des Morts (Lantern of the Dead) is the centrepiece of the cemetery, overlooking the graves, contemporary and ancient. Square, set on a circular platform, it has a small door at the bottom, a window at the top on each side and a sizeable column at each corner. The oil lamp that hung at window height was operated by a pulley to allow retrieval and maintenance of the lamp.

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La Laterne des Morts overlooking the Merovingian tombs

Of even more interest are the Merovingian tombs in the cemetery. The Merovingian Dynasty (476-750) was the first major political authority which rose out of the ashes of the dying Roman Empire in Europe. Clovis I was the first important ruler of the Merovingian Dynasty and is considered the founder of the French State.  That makes these tombs very old and one of the few burial sites so far found in the region. Anyone familiar with the Dan Brown Da Vinci Code will know how the story tells that the blood line of Mary Magdalen and Jesus Christ engendered the Merovingian Dynasty …… perhaps my quest for the Holy Grail should begin here in Pers!

Our next outing in this series will be to Melle, to visit the church of Saint-Hilaire, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela. In the meantime, if you’d like to spend a week or two visiting places of interest in our area then get in touch via our enquiry form and let us know of your plans.