Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Section

Collegiate Church of St Laurent d'Auzon in Auvergne

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The Benedictine Collegiate Church of St Laurent d'Auzon

The Collegiate Church of St Laurent is located in Auzon, a picturesque walled town in the department of Haute-Loire.

Perched on a rocky spur, Auzon has been inhabited without interruption since the pre-Celtic period.

As a result, it boasts an exceptional architectural and religious heritage that earned it the label the ‘Petite Cité de Caractère - small town of character’.

This includes the beautifully restored ramparts and gates and its exceptional Benedictine Collegiate church.

Auzon is also worldwide known for a whalebone casket, known variously as Coffret d’Auzon - Franks Casket - Auzon Runic Casket, which would have once belonged to the Collegiate church.

This reliquary, made in Northumbria around 700AD, is now exhibited in the British Museum (except for a panel kept at the National Museum of the Bargello in Florence).

This valuable item was stolen (or more probably hidden) during the French Revolution.

It seems to have changed hands several times, until Augustus Wollaston Franks, the curator at the Department of Antiquities at the British Museum, purchased it during the 19th century.

Collegiate Church of St Laurent d'Auzon

Foundation of the Collegiate Church of St Laurent d'Auzon

The origin of the Chapter and the foundation of Collegiate Church of St Laurent d'Auzon are unknown.

However, it seems that a first monastic community settled down in the castrum of Auzon in the early Middle Ages.

A fragment of a Latin inscription dating from this period and discovered on one of the church walls supports this assumption.

On the day of his death, December 20, 1091, Bernard of Auzon gave the tithe of all his lands to the abbey of La Chaise-Dieu.

This donation, however, triggered much conflict between the local lords and the diocese and therefore delayed the construction of the monastery.

The Church of Saint Laurent d'Auzon, a dependent of La Chaise-Dieu, became a collegiate in the early 13th century when the Benedictine monastery was eventually founded.

It seems that the monastery was a renowned cultural and intellectual centre of the time and initially depended from the Chapter of Saint-Julien de Brioude.

This would explain some architectural similarities between the two churches.

Eglise Collegiale Saint-Laurent d'Auzon

Collegiate Church of St Laurent d'Auzon, a gem of Auvergne Romanesque architecture

The Collegiate Church of St Laurent d'Auzon has fortunately retained most of its outstanding original architectural features and is renowned for its remarkable acoustics.

Built on a very basic floor plan, it consists of a single nave with four bays, a vaulted choir, a polygonal-shaped apse and two Gothic chapels decorated with murals.

The south porch boasts stunning heads of capitals carved with animal heads, mottoes and scenes of the Annunciation and the Nativity.

Its structure is based on an assembly of wooden slats, an architectural feature known as ganivelle, which makes it look similar to the porch of Saint-Julien de Brioude Church.

The main porch’s doors are still partially covered in leather and trimmed with iron work, and the bell tower is known for its beautiful twin bays and its bell cast in 1569.

Finally, the Collegiate Church of St Laurent d'Auzon’s exceptional furniture includes 15th and 16th Century statues, a pre-Romanesque reliquary, a 12th century wooden Christ reliquary, a granite altar table and an ancient organ.

Department of Haute-Loire - Auzon
Coordinates church: Lat 45.392202 - Long 3.373196

Credits photos: Papou Poustache
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