Road Trip, Day 8

A column capital in Basilique Saint-Julien catches some purple light from a stained glass window.

I readily admit it: I can’t resist a medieval church. After visiting the basilica at Orcival, and learning that there are five related basilicas in the region, I decided I needed to go see another one. And then I tacked on another for the fun of it.

It’s been raining since I arrived here in Le Mont Dore, which means that I’ve yet to see the mountain, and I’ve yet to go for a nice high-elevation amble. With rain in the forecast again this morning, it was an easy choice to head down the mountain, going first to Issoire, and then to Brioude.

The Abbatiale Saint-Austremoine in Issoire.

The Abbatiale Saint-Austremoine is one of the five major Romanesque churches of the Auvergne, and widely considered to be the largest.* A harmonious and beautiful structure, the exterior of Saint-Austremoine displays a geometric regularity that is made more lively through the use of different colors of basalt stone, plus tile and mosaic work.

The inside is a surprise. It is full of color and pattern (the columns and their capitals were restored and repainted by Anatole Dauvergne from 1857–1860), and they are rich and sumptuous. Everywhere you look, you see something new. There is no lack of drama in this sanctuary.

*The other four major Romanesque churches are the Basilica of Notre-Dame (Orcival), the Basilica of Notre-Dame du Port (Clermont-Ferrand), the church of Saint-Nectaire, and the church of Saint-Saturnin.

Columns, their capitals, and other surfaces are completely covered with colorful imagery.
Looking along one aisle toward the choir.

I enjoyed a nice light lunch at Empreintes Vegetales, the kind of shop I’d visit frequently if I lived in a town that had one. At its heart, it’s a tea shop. They also make pastries and a variety of different savory tartes. Et voilà—my lunch. Along the walls are greeting cards by a local artist, a few decorative knickknacks, two shelves full of meticulously-labeled tiny bottles of sand from the owner’s holidays, and about ten shelves bursting with canisters of loose-leaf tea. It was cozy, friendly, and the perfect place to park myself for a little while.

Then I hopped in the car and drove a half-hour south to Brioude, in search of the Basilique Saint-Julien, which is not counted among the major Romanesque churches, but wow, it is so lovely.

The roof above the nave in the Basilique Saint-Julien. The warm pink tones come from the colors of the stones used to build the church, as well as a full set of contemporary windows, done in the bright colors of a spring garden.
Some of the original polychrome frescos in Saint-Julien, dating from the 12th century.
Sunlight travels through a colorful stained glass window to arrive on the unique floor of Saint-Julien. The entire space is paved with black and white cobblestones, and the floor dates to the 9th and 16th centuries.

It was a very full day, with a lot of driving along narrow, winding mountain roads that curved through too many shades of green to count. Tomorrow, I’m hoping for sunshine and some mountain walking.

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