4 secrets about the Notre-Dame-la-Grande church in Poitiers

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Notre Dame La Grande, Jewel of Romanesque Art in Poitiers ©ACAP - Claire COULARDEAU

dubbed "the city of a hundred steeples", Poitiers is one of the French cities with a ancient and rich heritage. While strolling in the city center of Poitiers, you will not be able to miss the majestic and mysterious Notre-Dame-la-Grande church. In this article, we reveal all its secrets!

1. The history of Notre-Dame-la-Grande, testimony to Romanesque architecture

In the heart of Poitiers, you will discover one of the city's architectural treasures. On the Place Charles de Gaulle, admire the sumptuous Notre-Dame-la-Grande church, a historic jewel of Romanesque art. During your stay in New Aquitaine, in Poitiers, this monument is one of the essentials to visit.

Sunset - Notre-Dame-la-Grande church in Poitiers©ACAP

On the site of an ancient pagan temple!

Many mysteries remain around Our Lady the Great ! Historically, a pagan temple stood in its place, replaced by a church mentioned for the first time in the Xrd century. At that time, it had a dual status, both parish and collegiate, attached to the domain of the Bishop of Poitiers. She didn't have her current form yet.

Successive constructions

The building was rebuilt in the second half of the XIrd century, in the middle of the Romanesque period. The church then underwent major work at the beginning of the 12th century.rd century with significant modifications: the west facade was destroyed, two bays were added to the west to extend the nave and the famous screen façade is carried out.
Over the centuries, the monument will undergo various additions, including various private chapels on the north side of the church, financed by the wealthy merchant families of the city. On this side, you can admire beautiful Gothic vaults from the end of the Middle Ages and others dating from the Renaissance.

2. The majestic sculpted western façade

The sculpted facade of Notre-Dame-la-Grande is a universally recognized masterpiece of religious art. Built at the beginning of the 12th centuryrd century, it is testimony to the rise of sculpture.

Pure Poitevin novel!

Its silhouette corresponds to the Poitevin novel. This screen facade, flat and entirely covered with sculptures, was designed as a decorative element, affixed to the original facade. It is much higher than the building, giving the effect of a backdrop. The sculptures represent ordinary motifs of Romanesque art: foliage, bestiaries, modillions are composed of grimacing characters and fantastic animals.
Look up so as not to miss the relief frieze above the entrance gate. It reads like a picture book going up from the portal floor to the third level. She relates bible story. Just above, in the arcades, we see the apostles and two bishops, then at the top, Christ, represented standing in a mandorla.

Facade of the Notre-Dame-la-Grande church in Poitiers©ACAP

The colors of yesterday and today

During the various restorations of the facade, traces of polychromy and painted inscriptions were spotted on the stones of the frieze and the figures. These probably date from the late Middle Ages. You can spot them around the Annunciation scene.
The facade of the monument can be admired day and night.
If you want to learn more about Notre-Dame-la-Grande, Grand Poitiers Tourist Office offers year-round guided tours (in groups, visits adapted for children).

3. The interior of the church and its remains of Romanesque paintings 

Surprise: even the interior of the Notre-Dame-la-Grande church is colorful! You can contemplate remains of Romanesque paintings at the level of the vault of the choir and the crypt, painted in oil on plaster. Above the choir, an authentically Romanesque fresco represents the Apocalypse.

Most of the wall decoration inside the building dates from the 1850s. The columns and vaults have been repainted with Roman-Byzantine motifs and the stalls at the nave level are partly from the period. Renaissance. At this location, we also find a small choir organ dating from the XNUMXth centuryrd century and large organs from 1996.

4. The legend of the keys: the Poitevin miracle! 

The biggest secret of the Notre-Dame-la-Grande church is surely the supernatural powers attributed to it!

Poitiers saved by divine intervention

A legend tells that in the year 1202, when the city was besieged by the English, the mayor's clerk sold himself to enemies and betrayed the Poitevins. Against a large sum of money, he assures them that he will deliver the keys to the city. The night before Easter, the cleric enters the mayor's room to steal the keys, but they have disappeared. When he wakes up, the mayor in turn realizes their disappearance and warns the guards, while going to the Notre-Dame-la-Grande church to pray. And guess what? Looking up, he discovers the keys in the hands of the statue of the Virgin!

That same night, the Virgin Mary, Saint Hilaire and Saint Radegonde appear before the English soldiers, causing them to flee. This divine intervention saves the city of Poitiers.
The Miracle of the Keys is today represented on a stained glass window of Notre-Dame-la-Grande, located on the north side and on a painting dating from the XVIrd century – beginning of the XVIIrd century, which you can observe during your visit.

The Sainte Radegonde church, Saint-Hilaire, Saint-Porchaire or St. Peter's Cathedral ... Visit Poitiers and learn more about the historical heritage of the city.

Poitiers gets its nickname "The City of 100 Bell Towers" of its countless number of churches, and we present some to you here some of the most remarkable !