Germigny des Pres Church, a rare illustration of Carolingian architecture
Germigny-des-Pres is located on the banks of the small river Bonnée in the Loire Valley.
This little village is charming, however, it owes its notoriety to its exceptional church.
Its church indeed dates from the early 9th century and is the oldest Carolingian church known to date in France.
It also boasts a unique mosaic, re-discovered in the 19th century during restoration work.
Germigny des Pres church was initially the oratory of the country house of Theodulf, the minister to Emperor Charlemagne .
It is officially known as Eglise de La Très Sainte Trinité and Oratoire Carolingien de Germigny des Pres.
Theodulf, Abbot of St-Benoît -sur-Loire
The Goth Theodulf was born in Italy.
He joined the court of Charlemagne around 782AD. A learned man, a brilliant scholar and theologian, Theodulf became the minister and counsellor to the emperor.
He became abbot of the Abbey of St.Benoît-sur-Loire and Bishop of Orléans.
He introduced instruction to all and stimulated the intellectual and cultural revival in the kingdom.
Theodulf commissioned also a 347-page Bible written in Carolingian script and produced in his school of calligraphy at Tours by the monk Alcuin of Northumbria, the scholarly mentor of Charlemagne.
This beautiful illuminated manuscript is known as Theodulf’s Bible.
Theodulf built a lavish country house with an oratory (Germigny des Pres Church) nearby his abbey of St-Benoît-sur-Loire in 806AD.
Sadly, he fell into disgrace after the death of Charlemagne in 814AD.
The emperor’s son, the suspicious Louis the Pious, indeed deposed him from his office and imprisoned him at Angers, where he died in 820AD.
Sadly, the Normans sacked and burned his mansion, when they invaded France a few decades later.
A Byzantine architecture
The church was shaped like a Maltese cross and had four identical apses.
The current eastern apse dates from the 9th century. It is the only original building and the only Carolingian building known to date in France!
Germigny des Pres Church’s Byzantine architectural style is very unusual in the Loire Valley.
Theodulf indeed commissioned the architect of Charlemagne, the Armenian Odo of Messina, with the construction of his oratory.
Germigny des Pres Church therefore looks similar to the cathedral of Echmiatzin in Armenia.
The decoration reflects also a strong Byzantine influence, with a wealth of gold and silver!
Mosaic of Germigny des Pres Church
Nothing is left of the the walls’ lavish mosaics and stucco and marble and porphyry floors.
The cupola of the apse, however, is still adorned with its original mosaic, which is undoubtedly as Charlemagne saw it when he visited his adviser and friend more than 12 centuries ago!
Amazingly, it was already 300 years old when Theodulf brought it from Ravenna (Italy).
This mosaic most likely came from the Palace of the Goth Theodoric, king of Italy (454AD-526AD.)
It consists of 13,000 cubes of coloured glass, which represent the Ark of the Covenant with the Hand of God in Heaven and two angels on each side.
Theodulf added a dedication all around; the silver letters stand out against a blue background.
Restoration works, carried out in 1840, uncovered this exceptional mosaic.
The monks had indeed concealed it with a thick layer of plaster when the Revolution broke out.
However, the plaster eventually crumbled and fell to pieces, exposing the outstanding decor!
The alabaster windows, at the rear of the apse, also date from the 9th century.
Germigny des Pres Church
Germigny des Pres Church remained in ruins from the 9th century to the 15th century.
The nave was rebuilt at that time and the church became the parish church.
The western apse’s floor-plan is still visible.
The little church boasts also a superb early 16th century carved wooden statue representing St-Anne teaching how to read to the young Virgin.
Unfortunately, most of the original church was demolished during restoration work carried out by Lisch in the 1840s.
The architect indeed destroyed all the vestiges, except the eastern apse because of its precious mosaic.
Reconstruction, however, was rather faithful to the original plan. A model of the original oratory can be seen by the church entrance.
Finally, you’ll find a stone Lantern of the Dead (Lanterne des Morts) erected in the 16th century along the path that runs in the back gardens.
Department of Loiret
Coordinates Germigny des Pres Church: Lat 47.846218 – Long 2.266488