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The Church of Saint Martin,l’Aigle
Welcome to Saint Martin !
The main Church of L’Aigle is under the patronage of the bishop of Tours, who died in 307. The building is a curious mixture of varied but harmonious styles, straddling five epochs. The church was built in the XI century. Its differs from many churches which are on the shape of the Latin cross. The remaining Romanesque part in the twelfth century, in grison stone (rough stone of the Pays d’Ouche) is composed of its bell tower with its elegant slate arrow pinnacle. It houses the baptistery built in 1936 and 1937.
On the side of rue Carnot, the apse, built in grison (grey) stone is keyed by two strong buttresses with three blind windows in the Gothic style. At the other end, the west façade built in stone with a defence element (machicoulis) above the main entrance shows the transition in style from the XII to XIII centuries. A wooden vaulted nave connects them.
In 1426 (this date has been certified by dendrochronology), the church expanded with a chapel of the Rosary occupying what is today the first bay of the north aisle. After the Hundred Years War, prosperity returned. From 1494 to 1499 three new bays were added to the nave (adjacent to Square P. Girard). ). In 1494, the mighty and majestic Tower of Saint Martin was built, in the full flowering of the Gothic style.
At the same time, in 1494, the congregation founded a « Brotherhood of Charity ». These lay associations are a particular feature in Normandy, covering what is today l’Eure and the eastern part of the Orne (Pays d'Ouche). They were intended to provide a Christian burial and prayers for the deceased members and relief for the surviving families. These kinds of mutual aid societies were funded by the contributions of each member, according to their means. Almost the entire population belonged.
The Patron Saint of this « Charity » was St Portien (Porcien) whose relic’s l’Aigle shares with St-Pourçain-sur-Sioul, in Bourbonnais, Auvergne where this monk is still revered.
St Martin’s tower was completed in 1498, the charity members contributed the largest of our bells, 4000 pounds in weight, named Poursainte which for over 500 years has dominated the chimes.
Finally from 1542 to 1563 (17 years), the southern nave was built ( adjacent to Place St Martin) with its vaulted Renaissance pendants and decorative motifs.
The main altar and the beautiful altarpiece are from the XVII century. The central painting ‘Descent from the Cross’ attributed to Simon Vouet, is flanked by Saint Martin (with his mitre) patron of the parish and to his right the monk Saint Porcien, patron of the city. Saint Sébastien and Saint Roch, stand side by side with them on the pediment, together with many other Saints. It is overlooked by Christ carrying the earth
During the revolution the church became the « temple of the goddess of reason » and outside, at the base of the windows, there is an inscription: « The French people believe in the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul ». This sentence, attributed to Robespierre was still partially readable until 1950.
During the XIX century, work to beautify the church overloaded its means to pay. Around 1890, Father GONTIER removed the shingle vault behind the brick vault built in the Gothic style.
Father Paul Girard in 1936 repaired the organs, by dividing the case in two parts to clear the west window, with its beautiful stained glass with a musical theme.
In 1935, he began restoration of the furniture, stained glass windows and statues.
The bombing of June 7, 1944 caused major damage including the loss of six ancient windows and two twentieth century windows.
In 1947, re-organised into its present state, the furniture of the church of St.Martin is blending happily with the old. The two fifteenth century windows survived the disaster: one dedicated to Saint Porcien, (D) (above the altarpiece, adjacent to Place St Martin), the other Chasse de St Hubert, (4th bay next to Square Paul Girard) (J)
The two restored windows fit well with the windows of our time due to the work of famous master glassmakers: Louis et Jean Barillet et Max Ingrand.
The contemporary work of Lambert-Rucki (Christ on the Cross, St Teresa, St Antony) was added to the older work (Virgin of the Fig tree, Trinity, Saint Jacques) of the XVII century. The Pieta by Léon Drivier (1951), the screen of the Baptistery and the arabesque copper communion altar give artistic harmony appreciated by the connoisseur.
Father Paul GIRARD (1875-1964), priest from 1922 to 1962, was the architect of this restoration. His burial place is in front of the altar of the Blessed Sacrament (south aisle). The square on the north side is named after him. On rue Thiers, the memorial to Abbé Girard was made in 1992 by Serge Santucci, in honour of his much other work for the people. All post-war contributions are the integration of contemporary art in this monument, classified as “Historic” in 1992.
Outside, on the façade of Place St Martin, you will see nine statues integrated into their Renaissance niches, carved by famous sculptors in the years after 1947:
- Lambert-Rucki Saint John, Saint Jacques (II)
- Yencesse Saint Martin, Saint Porcien (I)
- Cornet : Saint Peter, Saint Paul (III)
- Belmondo Sainte Geneviève, Sainte Jeanne d’Arc (IV)
- Martin The Virgin and Child (V)
Outside, on raising your eyes, you notice the (elegant) Clock Tower and the Tower of St Martin. This tower has a rich decoration in “flamboyant Gothic”. The buttresses are adorned with statues placed on pedestals of various shapes and highly decorated.
All the statues are clothed and shaped in such a way that they can be seen from a distance. We can recognize the following:
- Sainte Barbe carrying her tower,
- Saint Porcien carrying a chalice with a shield at his feet,
- Saint Jérôme dressed in a cardinal hat,
- Saint Jacques: this statue is the best preserved, because he faces southeast. At his feet, a donor kneels. This statue might have provided by the Brotherhood of St Jacques that existed at the time,
- Saint Michael slaying the dragon,
- On the south side, Saint John the Baptist carrying on his arm the lamb resting on a book,
- On the east side, Saint Nicolas, Saint Christophe,
- On the north side, Christ carrying the world with a shield at his feet (maybe that belonging to Guillaume de la Vallée. In 1494 he was one of the main donors for the tower),
- Sainte Marie Madeleine.
In addition to the ornamentation of this tower, we need to point out the coat of arms of Britanny on the window ledge of the East window of the South façade. The pounding of the central ermine may be a sign of a change in response to the order given by Louis XII to the barons of l’Aigle to no longer be called of Brittany and no longer bear arms.
We can see in the center of the railing to the west, the coat of arms of l’Aigle and those of France, marked by an open crown dated to the first quarter of the XVI century on the turret under the statue of the Cardinal.
We can also see that the pavilion roof is very old. It seems that this crowning in stone was never realised. The shape of the skylights, the traces of lead in the paint that was visible in 1840 and the arrangement of the tiles are all elements that suggest the authenticity of the roof. In 1951, the roof of the turret is altred by a stonemason of L'Aigle.
This roof in the shape of « an axe head » is surmounted by two statues, covered with lead : an angel and a woman (representing the Annunciation) which crown the two pinnacles. In the centre, a metal rod decorated with foliage holds the weather vane, our emblem: an Eagle.
Inside the Tower, a huge belfry is set at a low level in the tower to avoid collapse. There are three bells, including « La Porcienne» of 1498, dating from the completion of the tower.
Visiting friends, we thank you for your visit, see you soon …
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