The Romanesque church of Saint-Savin sur Gartempe is part of a former Benedictine abbey, founded during the Carolingian period. Its finely balanced proportions are an outstanding example of the Romanesque architecture of Western Europe.
Following the mediaeval tradition of church paintings, the abbey church has an imposing series of late 11th– and early 12th-century murals covering all the available wall space. They depict bible stories and are remarkable for the range of colours used, their elegance and graceful movement; for these reasons it has been dubbed “the Romanesque Sistine Chapel”. The wide range of subjects depicted and the different cycles of pictures offer a unique history of monotheism.
The profusion of mural paintings in a place devoted to Bible study, together with the prestigious setting, are an outstanding example of mediaeval civilization, its modes of representation and the spread of ideas. The church was listed as a historic monument in 1840 on the initiative of Prosper Mérimée, and regular restoration work has been carried out.
Criterion (i): The outstanding feature of the abbey church of Saint-Savin is its remarkable murals, illustrating the art of representation and painting in mediaeval Christian civilization in the western world. They are the pinnacle of the art of depicting narrative scenes on walls, with their wide range of colours and their elegant and graceful compositions. Saint-Savin has been dubbed “the Romanesque Sistine Chapel” on account of its monumental style and the extensive iconographic subject matter.
Criterion (iii): The church of Saint-Savin demonstrates the importance of images in monastic buildings, which were seen as important seats of learning during the Middle Ages, and it also provides an indication of how people thought at that time. It is an outstanding example of mediaeval civilization, showing how ideas were represented and disseminated. Some of the biblical scenes depicted (the Tower of Babel, Noah’s Ark, etc.) have played an important role in western Christian civilization.