Church of Saint Léon sur Vézère

St Leon sur Vezere

is in the Vezere valley between Montignac and Les Eyzies.

It is a beautiful village, set in a curve in the Vézere River. It is a small village, of houses in the attractive local stone joined by narrow meandering pathways and alleys. Remarkably for a village of this kind in this location, St Leon sue Vezere has not been overly renovated – rather ‘sympathetically restored’.
Many of the houses still have parts of their roofs made of stone which was the traditional roofing at one time.

There is an interesting legend in the village that a servant who shot an arrow at the cross fell down dead with his head turned the wrong way round. His grave was opened in 1890 by members of the Archealogical society and indeed there was a body with a head which was back to front.

The Romanesque church in St Leon sur Vezere

exterieur of a churchFrom the 12th century, classified as a historical monument, is one of the jewels of Saint Léon. The church is build on the site of an ancient Gallo-Roman villa and you can see some traces of these on the side of the church next to the river. It is on the pilgrim route that led from the Abbey of Vezelay in Burgundy and on towards the abbeys at Cadouin and Saint-Avit-Senieur. Around Le-Bugue the paths lead to various attractive churches including this one at Saint-Leon-sur-Vezere.

The church belongs to a Benedictine priory, the oldest mention of which dates back to a bull by Pope Eugene III in 1153. It was built on the site of a Gallo-Roman villa. The priory then depended on the abbey of Sarlat. Prior William of Sendreux became Bishop of Sarlat in 1333. During the religious wars, Protestants settled in the church. They were driven out by Jean de Losse, lord of the place. The church, shaken by a flood in 1961, was restored by the architect Yves-Marie Froidevaux.

The church has a plan of a Latin cross with an apse and apsidioles vaulted in a cul-de-four at each crossroads of the transept. Symmetrical, harmonious with the domes ending in the conical bell tower all roofed with stone slabs locally called “lauze”.
With a very simple architecture, it consists of a single nave extended by a transept and then an apse where the altar is located, surrounded by two apsidioles.Interieur of a church
The interior is sober and shows it had been intelligently restored. The walls of the apse are decorated with 5 arches falling on columns with capitals carved with interlacing carvings. The vaults of the apse and the south apsidiola show superimposed frescoes from several periods that were discovered during the 1965 restoration.On the wall at the left side as soon as one enters is a panel that tries to relate geometric forms to theological meanings. Unfortunately some designs are fading.
This church has a certain something — quiet and understated but full of majesty and grace. An excellent spot for contemplation/meditation.

During the summer, the church is the setting for the Festival Musical du Périgord Noir.


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