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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, but the original capitals and columns remained in place. The cloister also contains reliefs of abbots (including 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), 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 tourists 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 worry about allocating time to the church itself - it's like the aftermath of a wallpaperers convention (see bottom of page).







The cloisters, after surviving 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






West end of north side




Capital 05 (north end of west side)  - Daniel in the Lions' Den (link to the same subject in Autun)




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




Capital 50 (east side) - the Marriage at Cana




NE Corner Capitals 59(L) & 58(R) - St-Jean (plus angels and dragon), Annunciation, Visitation




Capital 69 (west end of north side) - Maybe Jerusalem?




Capital 74 (west end of north side) - the Story of St-Martin of Tours, then a Roman soldier, cutting his cloak in two outside the gates of Amiens, and giving half to a poor pilgrim.


Other images of this event




Abbot Durand de Bredons, first Clunaic Abbot of Moissac and Bishop of Toulouse



The numbers used above link back to the numbers used in this book




The Prophet Jeremiah - the only competition in all of France to the relief panels of Santo Domingo de Silos in Spain - indeed it is thought that the same master artist may have worked in both places.  It is sadly rare to find trumeau statues, one of the glories of medieval French church art, surviving at all, and certainly not in this condition.


Back to Abbaye St-Pierre de Moissac main page and more portal photos







The amazingly carved elongated figures of the Prophet Jeremiah on the east side of the trumeau (central doorway column), accompanied by Saint Paul on the west side.  In our view the most outstanding Romanesque sculptures left in France.  Sadly, many people do not even notice them as they have been taught to look at Tympanums (or not look at all)!




The Portal (1115 - 1130) and on the right atop a column is Abbot Roger (? - 1115 - 1135), who commissioned the work.



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