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PLAN of the Church
(Click on the thumbnail plan
to open a larger one in a new window)
The church of
St. Mary of Étampes is surely one of the most unusual and complex
in all of France. As it presently exists, we may see several building
campaigns, including :
an early 11th century crypt
an early 12th century nave
(itself of extraordinary design and, for its date, size)
onto which was added
a mid-12th century sculpted portal
a vast, spacious, "Early Gothic" choir
and transepts, dating from the third quarter of the 12th century;
a 13th century west façade
complete with sculpted portal.
The indefatigable 19th c. French architectural
historian Eugene Lefèvre-Pontalis dedicated a lengthy and detailed
article to the various campaigns at Étampes in the 1909 issue of
We summarise here his reconstruction of the history of the building,
adding our own comments where appropriate.
three surviving bays of the nave are the oldest above-ground parts
of the building.
The easternmost bay of the Northern side aisle of the nave, looking
from the West end of the nave, looking East, towards the flat-ended chevet
The last two easternmost bays of the South aisle of the nave, looking East
The corbel from the South springing of the groin vault of the westernmost
bay of the South side aisle of the nave.
View of the South side aisle, looking West towards the 13th
c. facade, with the 13th c. infill within the original 12th c. arch.
The double corbel from the North springing of the groin vault
of the westernmost bay of the South side aisle of the nave.
There are a few capitals from the original early 12th
century nave campaign which have figurative sculpture on them, most notably
this one from the third or fourth bay.
Note that a later 12th c. ("gothic", left) compound pier complex
has been joined onto the early 12th column.
Beneath a finely carved, complex and well articulated impost block we
see a somewhat vague (unfinished?) foliate form together with the carved
figure of a standing man, probably a tonsured cleric.
This figure, which seems almost to have been added as an afterthought
(note the curious relief field in which it is carved) is indicative of
several aspects of the state of figure style representation at Etampes
in the early decades of the 12th century:
-- Clearly there is no sophisticated carving tradition present here, we
are in the presence of little more than a scratching carving ;
-- And yet the pose and drapery patern are rather complex, suggesting
an underlying form language which existed with more sucess in media other
than stone sculpture ;
-- The curious feature of the "depression" formed in the torus
of the capital by the figure's feet is quite unusual ;
Looking at the decorative details of the transept campaign(s),
it is difficult to conceive of them datable to much later than the end
of the third quarter of the twelfth century.
If this is the case, then we are clearly in the presence of a very extraordinary
building indeed, for few others can boast a vision of such bold spaciousness
and breathtaking verticality.
View from the Southeast corner of the church, looking Northwest .
View from the Southwest corner of the transepts towards the Northeast.
from the Northeast corner of the transepts towards the Southwest. The
entrance to the crypt is in the lower left corner. The last southern
bay of the nave/junction with the South transept is visible in the center
background. In the larger. jpg, note the early 12th century
capital at the clearstory level on the nave side of the crossing pier.)
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