Sainte-Marie Abbey in Souillac

Souillac sur Dordogne is located between Sarlat and Rocamadour in the historic Quercy.

Souillac sur Dordogne - Sainte-Marie Abbey church
Sainte-Marie Abbey church

The village developed around the Benedictine Abbaye Sainte-Marie.

In the 12th century, the monks indeed dried up a marshland located on the northern bank of the river Dordogne in order to found their abbey.

The village was then known as Souillès.

The name evolved from the Occitan Souilh that meant marshland where boars wallow.

The word still exists in modern French language as souepig’s sty.

A perimeter wall pierced with five gates encompassed the village and its abbey.

These fortifications were not sufficient, however, to properly protect the abbey during the Hundred Years War.

Souillac - Low-relief in Ste-Marie abbey church
Low-relief in Ste-Marie abbey church

It was then burned during the Wars of Religion, exception made of the church dedicated to Sainte-Marie.

The monks rebuilt the monastic buildings in the 17th century, but the abbey was eventually declared State property a century later, at the French Revolution.

Sainte-Marie Abbey church strikes by its Byzantine architecture; its domes are very similar to those of Saint-Front Cathedral in Périgueux.

The interior boasts a wealth of Romanesque sculptures, among which the famous low relief depicting Isaïe.

Saint-Martin Church

Saint-Martin Church in Souillac
Saint-Martin Church

When visiting Souillac you’ll come across the Eglise Saint-Martin, the town’s parish church until the French Revolution.

It stood near the Porte Barnicou, one of the five gates of the walled city.

The 12th century church was rebuilt in the late 15th-early 16th century and remodeled during the 17th century.

All that is left of the Romanesque building is a section of the tympanum depicting Christ placed between the Virgin Mary and St-Martin.

Only one of the two angels that framed the characters is still visible.

The single nave and a rib-vaulted transept survived the Wars of Religion, but not the belfry.

Souillac - Prophet Isaie in Ste Marie Abbey church
Prophet Isaie

It was indeed used as a defense tower and was badly damaged; the ruins were restored in 2005.

Saint-Martin became State property at the Revolution.

The apse was replaced by a building, which was later remodeled and today houses the Tourist Office.

The church served as town hall from 1825 to 1985 and has now been converted into a vast exhibition hall.

Souillac is a lovely little town which can easily be visited in half a day.

Tips:
Free Wi-Fi from the Tourist Office, you just have to ask for the code; some cafes give you their access code if you order a drink.

Department of Lot
Coordinates: Lat 44.893626 – Long 1.478613

Photo via Wikimedia Commons: Low relief  CC BY-SA 3.0Prophet Isaie  CC BY-SA 3.0

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