Saint-Martin's church

Guide-book & Commentary on the Mural's
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The Church at Prissac belonged to the prïory of the Bénédictine Abbey of Saint Savin (Vienne). It is dedicated to St. Martin, bishop of Tours who evangelized the Centre and West of Gaule in the 4th century.

The bell tower

This is the oldest part. Constructed at the end of the 12th century, it forms the entry to the church. The Gothic arch of the door is supported by four columns, each surmounted by a capital with plant motifs.

On the capitals to the right small flowers as well as faces can be recognized. 

You pass then under a square porch, with a ridged arched roof. Large dark bands occupy the high parts of the walls. These are funerary litres which are painted on the death in the seigniorial family.  You can also distinguish, in yellow, the vestiges of the coat of arms of the La Trimouille family who were the Lords of Fontmorand at Prissac.

The roof arch is decorated with ancient paintings of plant motifs. This roof is pierced at its summit to allow the passage of the bell ropes.

Two bells date from 1913, but the third dates from 1555 and is contemporary with the rest of the building. Named ‘Marie’, its dedication is an invitation to calm God’s anger and banish lightning and storms.

A second door, in the Roman style, allows entry to the nave. Probably earlier than the main door, it has been cleared of the crude plaster decoration which covered it.
Some reddened stones are a reminder that the building was the subject of a fire. This door has lost its small columns.

The nave

Originally, the building comprised only one nave, narrower and fully vaulted. The left wall is probably the oldest, as shown by the monstrous head in the corner with its bulging eyes, sharp nose and pointed ears, set almost at the top of the head. On the outside, this wall is the only one to carry several roman style modillions, which can be seen from in front of the bakery.

At the end of the 15th century, the Lords of Rochechevreux and the people of Prissac added three chapels to the right side of the nave. However, the construction of these weakened the old church and a wall collapsed. At the beginning of the 16th century, the old church and the chapels were brought together under one roof giving the impression of two naves side by side. They are composed of four square bays separated from one another by three columns. The one nearest the chancel is grooved while the others are simple stone cylinders creating a gothic flamboyant style.

 In the nave, a copy of the painting of ‘The Visitation of Saint Sebastian del Piombo’ is framed by the statues of Saint Joseph and a Virgin with child.

armes des Courraud de la Rochechevreux

Two families exercised their influence on the building. As it is, the principal nave is surrounded with a funerary litre showing the arms of the Lords of Fontmorand while the secondary nave on the right has the arms of Couraud de Rochechevreux.

The vault paintings

The paintings which decorate the vaults are probably from the end of the 19th century, but are practically identical restorations of the original 14th century paintings underneath.

Different plants are arranged into bouquets. One can recognize wild flowers and leaves of ivy, strawberry, oak and grasses. The colours are soft; yellow ochre, brown ochre, white, black and blue etc. For each nave, a roof decorated with plants alternates with a roof decorated with imitation dressed stone.

The seignorial chapel

The chapel (4) situated at the Northern end dates from the 15 century. It belonged to the Fontmorands, Lords of Tremoille. One enters it through the soffit of an arch. A groined vault decorated with eut stone designs rests on two heads depicting personalities at the Eastern end. Researches carried out in 2006 uncovered new frescoes from the 15th century under the render: Christ sitting in judgement surrounded by the four evangelists represented in the form of a tetramorph :

East vault : Christ the Judge

North vault : St. Mark (lion)

West vault : St. John (eagle) and St. Matthew (angel)

South vault : St. Luke (bull)

The faces of these figures have been systematically vandalized (perhaps at the time of the troubles which divided Protestants and Catholics in the région at the end of the 16th century).

On the outer walls a large black strip (the litre) shows the coat of arms and marks the burial of a member of that family. Under this "litre" appear frescoes which unfortunately have been scratched out. However several scenes may be made out.

The largest, between the door and the stained glass window, recalls the saga "The three dead and the three living" which recurs several times in régional frescoes such as those at Le Blanc and Chavin in Indre or Antigny in Vienne.Three dead people leaving their tornbs call to three young and happy hunters rerninding them of the brevity of life. Here, only the three young hunters rernairi ; the three dead persons rnust have been on the vandalized wall to the left of the door. The first of the nobles, frightened by the scene, looks back and releases a falcon getting ready to pounce on a rabbit. He is followed by the two further horsemen whose hats are embellished with large feathers. They are accompanied by two dogs chasing the rabbit. One notices that the third horseman carries a sword in his belt. Ninety-two frescoes up to now have been identified as representing this theme in France.

On the same wall one distinguishes two persons of rank, one of whom (Pope St. Gregory) is praying at the foot of an altar. Behind the altar appear the Christ and the objects of the Passion. It refers to St. Gregory's mass which is also found in Gargilesse.

Finally, opposite the door of the chapel St. Catherine may be distinguished holding a sword and the wheel on which she was tortured. She is accompanied by an important person in a hood, possibly St. James. At the other end of the wail appears a woman in a halo.

Altars, stained glass windows and chancel statues

The back of the chancel (called the chevet) is flat, as in many churches in the region. The mullioned window which illuminates it, is in the flamboyant style. A very realistic Christ on the cross from the 17th century occupies the north wall.

The main altar is decorated with a bas-relief representing ‘the four evangelists surrounding Christ’ which are recognisable by the symbol at the foot of each. To the left are St. Mark and St. Matthew. To the right are the beardless figures of St. John and St. Luke.


The stained glass window over the main altar represents St. Martin and St. Radegonde, like the two statues from the 15th century on either side of

the altar. The Statue of St. Radegonde is in stone, St.Martin in polychrome wood.

The paintings decorating the wall were damaged at the time the opening was made for this large window. A bearded bishop is represented with his cross and mitre. In all probability it is Saint Martin, to whom the church is consecrated. End of 15th beginning of 16th century.

This small figure appears to be in prayer in front of a large individual brandishing a cross. This scene was severely damaged at the time of the installation or enlargement of the window. Also, what appears to be some sort of sail may equally well be a drapery. End of 15th beginning of 16th century.


One can  distinguish the vestiges of the apostles (identifiable thanks to their naked feet), situated all around the chancel (only four can still be made out). Each one of them has his right hand placed on a consecration cross (a cross inscribed in a circle); a representation very rare in France.

The second altar known as the ‘Altar of the Holy Sacrament’, is decorated with a scene evoking the crowning of the Virgin. Above is a niche with a Virgin and child from the 18th century which was worshipped for a long time in Prissac. She used to be carried in processions on the 15th of August.

On the same wall, the removal of a covering in 2006 revealed a new niche in stone, sculpted in the Gothic style, containing fragments of a very old polychrome.

The restorations of 2013 have exposed new paintings. In the upper register, you can see St. Sebastian's Martyrdom. The saint, tied to a column, is pierced by arrows fired by the archers situated on either side. The costumes of the four archers allow the scene to be dated as at the end of the 15th century, or the beginning of the 16th. Saint Sebastian is invoked for protection against the plague. 

In the lower register, to the right is St.

Andrew. This apostle is identifiable by his bare feet and his cross in the shape of an X, the symbol of his martyrdom. He is holding in his right hand a consecration cross.

Paintings and stained glass Windows of the nave.

In the second nave, turning towards the entrance, you can see windows from the 19th century by Charles Leveque de Beauvais. These windows have been reworked over time and illuminate the north wall.


The first stained glass window represents the Adoration of the Shepherds as well as the interior of Nazareth. 

In the lower register, to the right is St.

John. This apostle is identifiable by his bare feet and the chalice which he is holding in his left hand. His right hand rests on a consecration cross. 

The next window shows King St. Louis bringing the crown of thorns, for which he built the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Under the feet of each figure there appears the coat of arms of the de Lanet family who financed the stained glass. To the right of the head of the window can be seen the Chateau de la Garde-Giron, owned by this family.

The last window shows Mary at the foot of the cross and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.


The west wall is decorated with paintings from the middle of the 16th century :  Virgin with child placing her left hand on a consecration cross.

The faces of the Virgin and the infant Jesus have been chipped off. This may have been an act of vandalism linked to the religious wars. (Siege of Bélâbre in 1587). 

Phylactery:  "ascendit ad celo sedet ad dextram patris omnipotentis".

In the upper register, you can see St. Catherine of Alexandria trrampling on the Emperor Maximin at the beginning of her martyrdom. 

The phylactery* “Sancta Katherina” confirms the identity of the person.

Person in prayer (perhaps the sponsor of the work).

Phylactery: “sancta andre ora pro nobis” (Saint Andrew pray for us). 

The martyrdom of Saint Andrew.

Four executioners are binding the limbs of the saint to a cross in the shape of an X. The executioner above and to the left is pulling with all his strength on the bonds while pushing against the body of the martyr. The peoples’ clothing (culottes, jodhpurs, ruffs …) allows this painting to be dated as mid 16th century.

Finally, above the door, you notice an eagle and Christ, the juge. The Father is represented with the papal tiara. He is blessing with his right hand and in all likelihood holding a globe (a symbol of universalism) in His left hand. He is probably surrounded by the tetramorph (the four evangelists represented in their symbolic form) of which there remains only the eagle of Saint John, situated on the left of the scene.  16th century.


Saint Christopher carrying the infant Jesus.

This much damaged painting is probably the oldest in the church and could date from the 14th century. It is painted on the wall of the steeple and constitutes one of the rare vestiges of a nave earlier than the original one. One can distinguish the halo of the infant Jesus and His foot on the arm of the saint.

Translation : John Porter

Guide-book & Commentary on the Mural's
Document Adobe Acrobat 8.5 MB