Saint Savin, Abbey - Visit time : half-day.
The abbey of Saint-Savin is a jewel of Romanesque art from the 11th and 12th centuries. Through its balanced volumes, it is a true representation of western Romanesque architecture.
Its paintings, created by Benedictine monks, make up the largest set of Romanesque paintings in Europe The profusion of images painted on the wall panels combined with the quality of a prestigious setting constitute an exceptional testimony to medieval civilization and its modes of representation and dissemination of ideas. This exceptional collection has earned the site the nickname "Sistine Chapel of the French Middle Ages."
According to legend, the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Savin and Saint-Cyprien sur Gartempe was founded in the time of Charlemagne. Though its origins remain obscure, its spiritual influence covered all of Poitou, Berry and Limousin in the 11th century.
But the fame of Saint Savin was due less to the indisputable nobility of its architecture than to its extraordinary painted decorations (late 11th and early 12th centuries). A first series of paintings covering the ceiling of the bell tower and the tympanum of the door opening to the church describe the Apocalypse in grandiose scenes. A second series of biblical themes unfolds throughout the barrel vaulting of the nave : the creation of plants and stars ; the birth of Eve and then the Temptation and its consequences ; the story of Cain and Abel ; the story of Noah and his descendants ; the stories of Abraham, Joseph etc. .... the monumental style and scale of the iconographic images fully justify the nickname "Romanesque Sistine Chapel" which was given to Saint-Savin.
The passion of Christ is painted in the upper gallery of the porch, with scenes of martyrs ; great figures of Saints decorate the choir and the pillars of the transept. Finally, the history of Saint Savin and Saint Cyprien adorns the walls of the crypt that bears their names.
An authentic mural masterpiece of the 11th and 12th centuries, the entire pictorial of Saint-Savin has been included on the World Heritage List under criteria (i) and (iii) since 1983.
Criteria for selection
Criterion (i): the uniqueness of the abbey of Saint-Savin lies in its extraordinary decor, demonstrating the art of representation and painting in the civilization of the medieval Christian West. The art of covering the walls in narrative scenes, using a full range of color, as well as print compositions of elegance and movement, reached a peak at this site. The monumental style and scale of the iconographic images justify the nickname "Romanesque Sistine Chapel" given to Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe.
Criterion (iii) : The Church of Saint-Savin demonstrates the importance of Image in monastic buildings, considered at the time as a major place of education, which controlled the modes of thought during the Middle Ages. The profusion of images on the walls is an exceptional testimony of medieval civilization and its modes of representation and dissemination of ideas. Some biblical themes represented in these images (the Tower of Babel, Noah's Ark, ... ) are topical of Western Christian civilization.
Source Unesco / ICOMOS