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
The establishment and construction of the abbey
Although its origin remains unclear, the establishment of the abbey seems to have originated in the Carolingian period, during the early 9th century. It was built in honor of two brother martyrs of Italian origin, Saint Savin and Saint Cyprien (5th century), who were massacred along the Gartempe River. Found 300 years later, the preservation of these relics was at the origin of the creation of the abbey church. As soon as it was created, the abbey radiated throughout the Aquitaine region.
The present abbey church was built thanks to a generous donation from Aumode, Countess of Poitou and Aquitaine in 1010. The construction and ornamentation of the building were undertaken from 1040 to 1090, and the paintings were added around 1100. Two centuries later, the monastery buildings were completed thanks to donations from Count Alphonse de Poitiers, brother of King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis). The abbey prospered until the 14th century.
But the Hundred Years War, triggered between France and England, would incite the decline of the abbey. In 1371, before his return to England, the Black Prince destroyed the monastery. Then in the 16th century, religious wars dealt another blow to the abbey complex. In 1565, the Protestant Huguenots sacked and burned everything within their reach. The Commende Reform, which gave the king power to designate the abbots, was involved in the dismantling of the convent buildings and cloister. The new abbots, now laymen since the reform, did not care about building maintenance and were more interested in the financial income they could derive from the use of the abbey. Around 1600, one of them even sold stones from the buildings.
The revival of the abbey began in 1680 around the time of the installation of reformed Benedictine monks of the order of Saint-Maur. A huge task lay before them : they would restore the church, and construct new convent buildings. But again, a historical event, the French Revolution, would undermine this revival. The last four monks left the abbey in 1792. It was not until 1836 upon the visit of Prosper Mérimée that the buildings would finally enjoy the protection and the restoration they deserved. Work began in 1840. In 1877, the spire dating from the 15th century, which had collapsed in 1820, was rebuilt. Restorations continued throughout the 20th century and continue even today.
20 Place de la Libération, 86310 Saint-Savin sur Gartempe
Website - tel : 05 49 48 11 00.
October through April, Tuesday to Saturday: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
May through August, Monday to Saturday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Getting to Saint Savin
Highway A10 (Paris -Bordeaux), exit 29 Limoges.
Highway A20 (Paris -Toulouse), exit 15 Poitiers.
Route N10 (Paris - Bordeaux).
Route D951 (Poitiers-Bourges).
Nearby classified sites :
Loire Valley (Tours) : 120 km (74.5 mi), time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Bourges : 150 km (93 mi), time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
Bordeaux: 253 km (157 mi), time: 3 hours, 50 minutes
Vézère valley 255 km (158.5 mi), time: 3 hours, 40 minutes
Gare TGV de Poitiers
Website – tel : 36 35.
TGV from Paris Montparnasse train station. From the Poitiers train station, bus service to Saint Savin : travel time about 1 hour.
By bus from Poitiers
Lignes en Vienne
Website - tel : 05 49 21 04 00.
A bus service to Saint Savin runs every day from the bus station in Poitiers, located in front of the train station.
Sleeping / Eating
The selection of accommodation proposed below are situated nearby the classified area. The prices shown are for the off season, on the basis of 2 people.
B&B "La ferme Apicole"
Siouvre, 86310 Saint-Savin sur Gartempe
Website - tel : 05 49 48 10 19.
Room from €50.
Hôtel de l’Abbaye *
48 Place de la Libération 86310 Saint-Savin sur Gartempe
Website - tel : 05 49 48 00 83
Room from €42.
The “menus” usually consist of a starter, a main course and a dessert, for lunch or dinner.
Le Patisson – traditional cuisine
52 Place de la République, 86310 Saint-Savin
Tel : 05 49 84 14 73.
"Lunch menu" on weekdays €11.50. "Dinner menu" from €19.