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December 13, 2018

France: Abbey Church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe

Inside the Abbey Church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe

History suggests that the Saint-Savin Abbey was founded on the banks of La Gartempe River in the time of Charlemagne (747-814).   The story goes that Baidilius, Abbot of Marmoutier, chose the site following the “miraculous” discovery of the bodies of two 5th-Century martyrs, Savin and Cyprian. Here and elsewhere, relics, dubious provenance or not, were an essential part of the founding of many churches and abbeys.

Saint-Savin’s abbey’s church was constructed in the mid-11th Century in the Romanesque style. Inside there are many 11th and 12th Century murals that have remained intact; the murals have resisted the decay of time for the best part of a millennium. Indeed it is the abbey church’s interior decorations that are most famed today. UNESCO in its World Heritage listing notes that Saint-Savin is regarded as the “Romanesque Sistine Chapel”.

The exterior of the Abbey Church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe

An old bridge crosses La Gartempe in Saint-Savin

The Abbey Church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe is open for visitors most days of the year. Abbeys are our favorite religious buildings to visit. Like Saint-Savin, many are austere and peaceful. The simplicity of an old abbey personalizes the experience of monastic life in the Middle Ages. A visit is a step back in time.


Painted columns

Noah’s Ark

The Abbey Church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe is in the village of Saint-Savin, about four hours by car to the south and west of Paris. It is well off of the autoroute. The location does lend itself to opportunistic visits.

UNESCO inscribed the “Abbey Church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe” as a World Heritage site in 1983.

We spent a night in Saint-Savin sur Gartempe at the end of October 2017.

The bell tower is more than 80 meters high and was added in the 14th century.

An interior mural

UNESCO says the the Abbey is the “Romanesque Sistine Chapel”.


The nave of the church is colorful.

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