What if you were to visit a monument from the time of Charlemagne? On the banks of the Loire, 30 minutes from L'Echappée Belle, there is a monument that is unique in France! I call the Germigny
des Prés oratory a "little jewel".
But what is an oratory, you may ask?
An oratory is a chapel of limited dimensions, a place dedicated to prayer, usually located in a private house.
This is the case here, as Theodulf had it built in his villa between 803 and 806. The villa no longer exists, but the oratory remains.
A learned churchman, Theodulf was present at the court of Charlemagne, who appointed him Bishop of Orléans.
King Charles le Chauve visited this magnificent villa in 854 and 855.
The oratory has been badly damaged by fire, religious wars and time.
Several renovations were carried out, including a near-reconstruction between 1867 and 1876. All that remains of the original building are the foundations, the mosaic and some parts of the walls.
A miniature model inside the Oratory shows the evolution of the building with its unusual shape. The original plan was in the shape of a Greek cross, similar to that of the Oratory of the Imperial Palace in Aachen and inspired by Armenian churches.
As for the mosaic, it was hidden in the second half of the 18th century because it was covered with three layers of whitewash. It was rediscovered in 1841 when the whitewash was removed.
But let's talk more about this real treasure, the Byzantine mosaic!
Made of polychrome glass cubes and gold, it is located on the vault of the eastern apse of the Oratory.
It represents the Ark of the Covenant, the chest containing the Tables of the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.
This mosaic is exceptional because it is the only mosaic from the time of Charlemagne known outside Italy.
Moreover, the Ark is rarely represented in religious iconography.
The chest can be seen on the golden floor. The chest is surmounted by two cherubs. You can also see the rings and sticks that were used to carry the Ark.
Above it is the hand of God and on either side are two large angels.
Do you know...?
- Theodulf, who was responsible for the construction of this Oratory, was not only Bishop of Orleans but also Abbot of Fleury at the Abbey of Saint Benoit sur Loire.
- The "ancestor" of the French Estates General, which brought together the King's Majors and representatives of the Church, was first held in Germigny in 843.
- During the restoration in the 19th century, 6,800 golden glass cubes were needed, each requiring thirty grams of gold.
- The Oratory is located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Loire Valley.
If you are interested, you can take advantage of the guided tours organised by the Tourist Office. Do not hesitate to contact them or to ask me for the dates of the next visits during your stay in L'Echappée Belle.