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Melle Church of Saint-Hilaire visitor guide

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Visit Melle Church of Saint-Hilaire, France

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The Church of Saint-Hilare is situted a few hundred metres south of the current town centre in Melle, a town in the Deux-Sèvres department of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. It is now lsted as a UNESCO heritage site, in part because of its role as a historic pilgrimage destination

Explore the Church of Saint-Hilaire in Melle

France This Way comment: the Church of Saint-Hilaire in Melle is a very impressive roman style church that retains many of its original characteristics, especially on the exterior parts of the building

Although an earlier church existed on the site, probably made of wood, the current church was originally built in two stages - at the end of the 11th century and the middle of the 12th century -on the banks of the Béronne river, and was often visited by pilgrims in the middle ages on their way to Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle in Spain.

It takes its name from Saint-Hilaire, the first bishop of Poitiers, who died in the 4th century. It is the only one of the roman church in Melle to still be used for Sunday services.

Facade of the Church of Saint-Hilaire in Melle

There are several features of interest on the outside of the church, including the stonework of arches, columns and carvings of the facade, the charming series of curved chapels that make up the rear of the church, the cornice around the church, the carvings around the door in the north wall.

Our favourite is the statue of a horse and rider inset in the wall above the north door. This statue is thought to represent the Lord of Melle in the 12th century.

Unusually, you descend a flight of stairs to reach the main entrance, and then there is a further flight of stairs inside, presumably an unavoidable consequence of building on a slope!

Inside the Church of Saint-Hilare has a simple traditional layout, with a main nave and two side naves, a transept, and an apse with three chapels. This apse and chapels is of course what gives the outside of the rear of the church its distinctive appearance.

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The oldest part of the church - built in the 11th century - is the rear, with the transept and choir sections, and the chapels around the apse that once contained relics and were seen from the ambulatory (passage) at the rear of the church.

Unfortunately most of the carved capital stones at the tops of the columns iin this part of the church did not survive and theose we see today were added in the 19th century when the church of Saint-Hilare underwent restoration.

The naves that we see today, separated by numerous stone columns, are from the 12th century. There is not much internal furnishing in the church, but there are numerous carved capital stones (nearly 300 altogether) representing medieval scenes to add a great deal of interest to a visit, and a rare statue of Christ above the south door, seated next to Saint-Peter.

There are several stained glass windows in the church, which were added or replaced in the 19th century.

Ambulatory and apse in the Saint-Hilaire church in Melle

Attractions nearby

Melle is well known for having three roman style churches: although the Church of Saint-Hilaire is the best example, the other two (the Church of Saint-Pierre, in the town centre, and the Church of Saint-Savinien, north of the centre) are also interesting to visit. See the Melle guide for more information.

You can find more travel ideas in the Poitou-Charentes guide.

See also: 

Photos of Melle Church of Saint-Hilaire

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Map of Melle Church of Saint-Hilaire and places nearby

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