St Léon de Vérèze is an attractive village of narrow streets with honey coloured stone houses, many with roses growing up the walls. On the river, it is popular with tourists and the car park was busy. There didn’t seem to be many people around so we rather wondered where they all were. There are several restaurants, a general store selling bread and another more touristy shop. There is a comment in some guide books that the views are best from across the girder bridge over the river. In fact views fare obscured by trees.
Église St-Léonce is in a lovely setting beside the river at the end of the village. After all the rain this was very full and fast flowing. It is 11thC and all that remains of a Benedictine Priory . It has a tall square tower above the transept with two tiers of open round topped bell windows. Above is a pointed roof with lauze tiles. The transepts with steep pitched roofs are much taller than the nave which has a flatter pantiles roof. At the east end is a large round apse with lower, smaller apses on each side, all with lauze roofs. There are large round topped windows along the top of the nave and at the ends of the transepts and the apses.
Entry is either through the south door at the back of the nave or smaller north door in the north transept. Both have plain round stone arches.
Inside it is a very plain and simple church with modern stained glass windows. There is a small carved font by the south door. On the back wall is a list of names of the dead from the First World War, including names of the missing. Above is an old stone carving of two figures on horseback, the smaller one now headless, with the larger one holding a shield.
Along the south wall is the original stone bench used by the old or infirm.
There are massive square pillars in the transept with round arches above. Those on the nave side have been reinforced at a later date to take the weight of the tower. The north pillar has a small carving of the Virgin and Child, one of the few statues in the church. On either side of the transept arch are very tall narrow arches with round tops which lead into the transepts.
The nave has a flat beamed ceiling. The transept is domed and their are round ceilings above the apses. The side apses have very simple stone alters with a crucifix with blue/mauve drapes hanging from it. The south apse has a statue of St Theresa, the north a Virgin. Both are surrounded with plastic flowers. A small round arch leads from the apses into the chancel. This is known as a berrichon and is a feature of churches in the Berry region.
On the south chancel pillar is a small carving of a black Madonna and Christ Child. There is a small wooden table altar beneath the chancel arch and a plain stone alter behind. Round wall pillars have carved capitals with round topped arches with a stone bench round the base of the wall.
The ceiling and parts of the arches and walls have frescoes. These are in poor condition. We could make out red and yellow sprays with foliage. Between are figures. Some have a halo, and one seems to be holding a scourge. There is a figure of a bull with tiny horns and a halo; the symbol of St Mark possibly.
There are more frescoes on the walls of the south apse. There are narrow red patterned bands with red scrolls between them and what look like insects with long dangling legs. Round the top of the wall is the remains of a black funerary band with part of a shield and a crown.
There is a pattern of red or blue flower motifs round the window in the north transept.
We would have liked to know more about the frescoes. At the back of the church are several long information panels in hard to read handwritten French, which didn’t help much.
It is a nice building in a lovely setting, and certainly worth visiting if in the area.