Abbey of Saint Avit Senieur

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St-Avit-Senieur is a small village abut 5miles south west of Cadouin (see review). Like Cadouin, it is given 1* rating in the Michelin Motoring map but is ignored by the tourists. We found it a much more interesting place.

It is another small village dominated by a massive 12thC abbey which was fortified in the 14thC.

In the 5/6thC a hermit named Avit came here. Tales of his miracles soon attracted pilgrims and a monastery was established here. It suffered in the Albigensian crusades and the Hundred Years War. The building was in poor condition and the Huguenots wrecked the abbey and partially destroyed the bell tower during the Wars of Religion. The cloisters and monastery buildings collapsed. There was a major reconstruction in the 19thC and further work done towards the end of the 120thC.

Opposite the abbey is a big tree lined square with honey coloured stone houses and the Marie.

The abbey has a very plain long low nave with flat buttresses and unadorned round top windows. Beneath the roof are a series of small square windows. The chancel has very tall blind round topped arches and a flat a flat east end. At the west end are two towers. The south tower is square with tall blind round top arches . louvred bell windows and a pointed top. The north tower was later and had a battlemented top. This is now ruined and only the east wall still stands.

The west front is masked by trees and difficult to photograph. It has a wide facade with a big arch with machicolations and battlements above the door. Above is another row of machicolations and battlements with wooden flaps between.

Steps lead up to the wooden door and then through a metal grille into the huge and empty nave. This has a walkway round the top reached by a spiral staircase in one of the wall pillars. This gave access to the towers. Below the walkway is a narrow painted frieze.

Inside, the nave is almost totally decorated with murals in varying states of conservation. The choir was rebuilt in the 17thC and is devoid of painted decoration. Massive square wall pillars form wide ribs painted in bands of red and yellow, across the arcaded ceiling. This has wavy geometric outlines with a blue flower motif. Between the wall pillars are blind round topped arches. There are a series of beautifully carved bosses including the Lamb of God, a bishop.

There is a feeling of light inside with plain glass windows in the nave.

There are the remains of frescoes. There is a beautiful St Christopher carrying the Christ Child on his shoulders. It is difficult to make out details on the rest, but we identified a haloed Virgin Mary with the Christ Child with an angel holding a sword to her left.

Four wall arches on the south wall are painted red and contain a regular painted design. Each arch is different. One has blue circles containing the outline of a heraldic lion set in a wavy red border with small white motifs. . Another has blue circles with two standing mythical beasts. Running across the bottom of the four arches is a black funerary band. The rest of the walls are covered with a wavy brick outline with a small red central motif.

There is a four sided carved stone 9thC font in the nave. This has a scroll pattern carved on the sides. At the top is a very small bowl with four carved scallop shells. Near it is a statue of St Avit Ermite.

On the north wall is a carved wooden pulpit with a sounding board above. Opposite it is a crucifix.

At the end of the south aisle is a wooden altar with an unusual circular gilt host box with a carved and gilded bowl of fruit on top and praying angels on the side panels. Above in an elaborate frame is an oil painting of Christ Crucified with a dove above. There is a painted statue of St Radegonde.

The wooden altar at the end of the north aisle has a wooden host box with Christ crucified on the door with Mary Magdalene at his feet. There are cherub heads on the pillars. Above is another oil painting of a unidentified haloed figure.

In the chancel is a modern free standing altar with a gilt design of Christ and angels on the front. Behind it is the high altar, pinted to resemble marble, with a massive reredos. On the altar is a gilt host box surrounded by two large and highly decorated panels with cherub heads. On either side are two full size figures on pedestals with a sunburst and Sacre Coeur above their heads.On either side are marble pillars with carved capitals with urns and above. In the centre is a large oil painting of the crucifixion in a black and gilt frame with a carving of an angel blowing a trumpet at the top. On the side walls of the chancel are wooden choir stalls with blue painted seats, high backs painted with red and yellow squares in a blue frame. They have yellow scrolls on the arms and a blue canopy above.

To the south of the church are the remains of the cloisters,used as a cemetery from 1659-1923, and the remains of the monastery buildings with their wall round them. There are good views of the outside of the Abbey. The old Presbytery had stone archways on the ground floor leading to the storage rooms. Steps lead up to the first floor living quarters with a covered balcony.?

This was a very worthwhile stop.

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