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Abbaye St-Pierre de Moissac


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More photos from the Cloisters of the Abbaye St-Pierre de Moissac


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The Abbaye St-Pierre de Moissac was founded in the mid 600s.  It was extremely well endowed and regally protected, but that did not stop the turbulence of the times washing over it on several violent occasions and grinding it down.  By the early years of the first Millennium things were going from bad to worse - in 1030 the church roof collapsed, and in 1042 what was left was ravaged by fire.   


Then on cue the cavalry came riding over the hill in the form of the great Burgundian Abbey of Cluny.  In 1048 Moissac became affiliated with Cluny, who in turn sent one of their senior managers, Durand de Bredons, down to do a turnaround job as Abbot (he also doubled as the Bishop of Toulouse).  They did not muck around, those Cluniacs, and only 15 years later in 1063 a new Abbey church was consecrated.


Today the two glories of the Abbey are its cloisters, which are said to be the oldest surviving cloisters with narrative capitals (though Santo Domingo de Silos might dispute this), and the sculptures of the portal (and particularly the trumeau - central door pillar) of the abbey church.  


46 of the 76 cloister capitals illustrate themes from the scriptures or the lives of saints.  They were sculpted during the abbacy and under the direction of Ansquitil (? - 1085 - 1115) and completed in 1100.   The cloister gallery roofing was rebuilt in the late 1200s and again in the 1900s, but the original capitals and columns remained in place. The cloister also contains reliefs of Abbot Durand de Bredons, evangelists and disciples.  The cloister is run as a separate state museum with a long lunch hour!




The portal in the south west corner of the church (which is still run as a church and does not close for lunch) followed under Abbot Roger (? - 1115 - 1135) (right), close on the heels of the cloisters.  The whole ensemble of sculpture in the portal is regarded as a leading example of French Romanesque art, with particular fame attaching to the tympanum (inspired by the Book of Revelations), and the statue of the Prophet Jeremiah on the east side of the trumeau (the central doorway column) which is truly gobsmacking and widely acknowledged as one of the best remaining pieces of Romanesque art in France.  It is also not noticed by many visitors who think that it's the tympanum that they should look at, not the door post! 


And that is not all - don't miss the Romanesque morality and life of Mary stories on either side.


Don't be concerned about allocating time to the church itself - it's like the aftermath of a wallpaperers convention (see bottom of page).





The Prophet Jeremiah - Moissac



The Prophet Jeremiah - the only competition in all of France to the relief panels of Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain.  Trumeau statues were one of the glories of medieval French church art of the 10 / 11/ and 1200s.  Sadly not many of them survived the intervening centuries of wars, revolutions and old age.  In part this was because they were within striking distance of any ladderless idiot with a long handled sledge hammer.  To find one of this quality in this condition is just magic.



The Prophet Jeremiah, Moissac



Moissac Portal    Moissac Trumeau


The Portal (1115 - 1130) with its famous trumeau column, and to the top right of the portal is Abbot Roger (? - 1115 - 1135), who commissioned the work.

The surviving corbels are mainly face pullers.



Saint Paul, Moissac



Saint Paul - on the other side of the trumeau to Jeremiah







By the left door - Saint Peter with the keys to paradise


By the right door - the prophet Isaiah with his prophesy - "ecce virgo concipiet" (behold a virgin shall concieve)



Link to:  Centre for Romanesque Art of Moissac



Moissac - South Side



Moissac Tympanum


The Tympanum - storyline based on the Book of Revelations and including a tetramorph (signs of the four evangelists around god).  Marvel at the number of ways that legs can go .... The archivolts and lintel would have also have contained relief sculptures in earlier days.



Moissac Tympanum





West (left) side - focus on sin





Avarice and Lewdness - Moissac Portal


LHS: Avarice and Lust (see below also) and other things



Lazarus Dies - Moissac Portal


Portal sideshow (left) - Lazarus the spotty pauper starves at the door of the mansion of the feasting rich man Dives (Luke 16. 19-31).

Lazarus won of course, because when they both died on the same day Lazarus was transported to a for ever heavenly yum-cha,

whilst Dives was left begging for a drop of water to cool his tongue as he was surrounded by the fires of hell.

Spotty (Saint) Lazarus suffers conflation with Saint Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, whom Jesus enlivened after burial.



Money does not help - Moissac


LHS Top - AVARITIA (Avarice) - sickbed scene - detail below



Vices and Virtues and medieval horror images.



Lustful woman's punishment


LHS Bottom - LUXURIA (Lust) - Women as lewd and lustful sinners - serpents punishingly drain the breasts whilst another hungry mouth appears at the crotch and the the devil spits out a toad and grips his body-slashing knife meaningfully.  At least he's kept his schlong under wraps, unless that's not really a tail ......




Deathbed purging (or possibly ingesting a leg) - the point is that the money bag of greed and avarice does not seem to be helping much.  Note the elf pennanted hemline on the right.





East (right) side - Childhood of Christ






Portal detail - the flight to Egypt and some tumbling people ....



Magi, Annuncioation, Visitation - Moissac


RHS:  The Magi on top (left) and the Annunciation and the Visitation on the bottom








The cloisters, having survived Simon de Montfort in 1212 and the English, Hugenots, Revolutionaries and other nasties since then, nearly got destroyed by the great railway craze of the mid 1800s. 


In the end a compromise was reached and "only" the refectory was sacrificed to the march of progress, but, as someone said elsewhere in the early 1800s, it was a damned close thing.


The photo below shows the north side of the cloisters (which themselves are on the north side of the church), where the refectory would have been before it was destroyed to make space for the railway cutting.




North east corner









Capital 05A (north end of west side) - the Good Tidings are brought to the Shepherds



Hotel le Moulin, Moissac



The Hotel le Moulin de Moissac, a large converted mill on the River Tarn, just upstream from where it joins the Garonne.  The small town of Moissac lies to the right (north) of the hotel.  It's a one attraction town, the attraction being the Abbaye Saint-Pierre, which sits on the other side of town to the river.  Signposting there ain't, so it's best to go away from the river till you hit the railway line which runs along the corner of the cloister, where there is a small car park.  And don't come here for the attractive countryside - like many of the large French river valleys (the Dordogne being a notable exception) it's mostly flat, featureless and over-trafficked.



Abbey Church, Moissac



Finally, just in case you were wondering what this beautiful old Abbey Church looked like inside, we saved the worst for last.  A variant on the interior decorators' decoration cult of many of the churches of south west France, this one looks a bit like the venue for a recent wall paperers' convention? 



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