Sunday, 14 December 2014

Church of Notre Dame, Avenas (France)

The nave of Notre Dame, Avenas is built from undressed stone with a
timbered roof structure. Beyond the Eastern archway is the crossing
of the transepts and beyond this the apse.
A precious jewel set in the small town of Avenas, situated between Cluny and Lyon in eastern France, is the church of Notre Dame. It is said to have been built in the twelfth century, but maybe as early as the ninth century.  The inclusion of pointed arches at the crossing seems to indicate that this Romanesque building was constructed at the transition to the Gothic period.

This noble church is famed for its extraordinary limestone altar (certainly of the twelfth century), depicting Christ enthroned in majesty amid the Apostles and Evangelists. This marvellous and dynamic carving forms the frontal-piece of the altar.

The freestanding altar of carved limestone.
The admirable carving, quintessentially Romanesque and very religious in feeling,
has survived in this small church for 900 years.

The following is adapted from Vergnolle "Maiestas Domini Portals of the Twelfth Century" in Romanesque art and thought in the twelfth century.

The theme of the Maiestas Domini, Christ seated on a throne surrounded by the four symbols of the evangelists (the lion S' Mark, the eagle S' John, the ox S' Luke and the angel S' Matthew) refers to the Final Day of Judgement and the omnipresence and power of God. The theme became popular all over Europe by the heyday of Romanesque art by the end of the eleventh century/ beginning of the twelfth century. The mandorla (or vesica) of the Romanesque period, the oval frame covering the theme, replaced the circular halo of light or almond from previous times. On many Romanesque altar frontal-pieces, the Maiestas Domini occupies the centre of the composition, framed by the apostles, and has a direct relationship with the liturgy. It was to the Divine enthroned Majesty that the Church presented the Eucharistic sacrifice and its hopes for mankind. One of the most precious examples is the altar of Notre-Dame in Avenas. 

The south side of the altar shows the French King Louis, who offers the Church of Avenas
to St. Vincentius, the patron of the M√Ęcon church. The inscription reads as follows
“Rex ludovicus pius et virtutis amicus offert ecclesiam. Recipit Vincentius istam.
Lampade bissena fluxurus Julius ibat. Mors fugat obpositum Regis ad interitum”.

The freestanding altar stands in its ancient position at the opening into the apse.
Undressed stonework vaults the apse, which is lit by three simple round-head windows.
These windows, however, are enriched by an arched arcading supported
by four splendid stone columns, each carved differently.

Looking up into the dome surmounting the crossing.

The exterior of Notre Dame Avenas, a witness to the Faith for almost a thousand years.
The design is simple, but noble.
A tower surmounting the crossing adds much dignity to this rural church.
A smaller adjacent tower, abutting the southern transept, is octagonal in shape and has much more detailing.
It appears to be a later addition.

The photographs illustrating this post have been taken from this source.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.