THE COMMUNE OF MONTMOREAU
SOUTH CHARENTE – NEW AQUITAINE
MONTMOREAU is in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region of France, in the south of the department of the Charente.
The commune of MONTMOREAU came into being on 1 January 2017 following the regrouping of five historic communes:
The five historic communes have become “delegated communes”.
MONTMOREAU is an urban and rural municipality of 2910 inhabitants. The town centre has more than 1,000 inhabitants and offers schools, a college, a medical group and shops. The other inhabitants live in the villages of the other communes, in hamlets or isolated properties, in an area covering 6490 hectares.
MONTMOREAU is the administrative centre of the Community of Communes of Lavalette-Tude-Dronne.
MONTMOREAU is part of the canton of Tude et Lavalette. This canton has the same boundaries as that of the Community of Communes (CdC) of Lavalette-Tude-Dronne.
The coordinates of Montmoreau (from the chateau)
Latitude: 45° 24’ 00’’ North
Longitude: 00° 07’ 43’’ East
Altitude: from 71m to 182 m.
The antipodes of Montmoreau are set in the Pacific Ocean, at about 350 nautical miles west of New Zealand.
LGV Angoulême-Paris: 2 hours. Montmoreau-Paris: 2 h 30.
LGV Angoulême-Bordeaux: 40 minutes. Montmoreau-Bordeaux: 1 h 10.
Montmoreau station is a stop on the TER Angoulême-Bordeaux line.
The Angoulême-Bordeaux line, the former TGV Paris-Bordeaux line, is used for freight traffic.
Montmoreau is at the junction of the RD 674, Angoulême to Libourne, which is also an alternative route (“itinéraire bis”) to the Pyrenees and to Spain – and the RD 24 and 709 which link Barbezieux (on the RN 10) to the west of the Department of the Charente and to the Department of the Dordogne.
How far are we from?
- Montmoreau-Charente Maritime. La Rochelle, Ile de Ré and Oléron: about 140 km. Royan: 93 km.
- Montmoreau-Dordogne and Périgord. Périgueux: 53 km. Les Eyzies, Lascaux II, the « Valley of Man »: about 90 km. Bergerac: 67 km.
Montmoreau –Gironde, Landes. Bordeaux : 80 km, Saint-Emilion : 61 km, Arcachon : 130 km.
- Montmoreau-Spain. Bayonne : 220 km, Biarritz : 250 km, Espelette: 260 km.
- Montmoreau- ski resorts of the Central and Atlantic Pyrenees between 300 and 350 km.
COAT OF ARMS OF MONTMOREAU
Sky blue with a silver chateau, topped by a lord’s crown.
The village of Aignes-et-Puypéroux is located between the communes of Montmoreau-Saint-Cybard, Saint-Eutrope, Pérignac, Chadurie and Chavennat at an average altitude of 140 metres, its highest point being the Croix Verdelais at 201 metres. Dissected by the RD 674 road, the village is made up of several hamlets covering an area of about ??1299 hectares.
If the origin of its name "Aignes" is uncertain (perhaps a patron saint Agnes, or the name of the estate of a Roman gentleman Annius), Puyperoux, on the other hand, comes from the Latin ‘podium’ meaning stony hill. The commune came into being in 1793, when it was called Aigne. Its name became Agne-et-Puispérou in 1801, transforming over the years into Aignes-et-Puypéroux.
Forming part of the canton of Blanzac until 1970, it became part of the commune of Montmoreau in 2017.
The village, with 300 inhabitants, is located on limestone slopes dating from the Cretaceous period. Several streams, all tributaries of theTude, cross the land. It has an essentially agricultural economy, two thirds crops and one third forests or semi-natural environments. One area is part of the perimeter of Natura2000.
Originally, at the end of the eighteenth century, the commune had barely two hundred inhabitants. Over the decades, the population grew to reach about 600 souls before declining during the 20th century to around 260 and then 300 according to the last census.
In the fifties, shops and craftsmen brought life to the centre of the commune: the grocery store of "la Mère Giraud", two forges, a café, a baker. In those days there was no need to travel several kilometres to stock up on food or to have a tool repaired. With the school and the church, the village was very lively.
The village of Montmoreau-Saint-Cybard had 1187 residents in 2006 (Montmoréliens and Montmoréliennes).
The hills of Montmoreau are a continuation of those from Périgord in the west of the department of the Dordogne. They reveal a countryside of wooded horizons, the ancient “woody walks”, with vast and views, opening to skies where the influence of the climate from the shores of the Charente Maritime are always present.
The village of Montmoreau is built on the west bank of the valley of the Tude, a river that flows into the Dronne, on the southern border of the Department of the Charente (basin of Adour Garonne).
The site has been inhabited since the 1st or 2nd century. Fragments of pottery and coins testify to the site of a Gallo-Roman villa.
The name of Montmoreau appears on a document “cartulaire” from 1180: “in vicaria Montis Maurelli”.
One of the meanings given to this name is “the Mount of the Moors”. It derives from a legend that links this name with the presence there of Arab or Berber soldiers at the time of the Battle of Poitiers in 732. The reality is more prosaic and it refers to two possible origins: that of someone called Maurellus, meaning of brown skin or very black hair, or a hill where the forest was particularly dense and dark.
The valley of the Tude is dominated by a hill on which is sited a chateau from the 11th and 15th centuries. On the sides of the hill, the old town reveals its sloping streets, some very old houses and the Romanesque church from the 12th century. Montmoreau was a stopover for the pilgrims of Compostelle as they walked the Via Turonensis.
The more modern areas surround the hill. The economic and commercial life which was previously located in the old town is now mainly found along the RD 674, linking Angoulême to Libourne.
A few ancient remains have been found in the village of Saint Amant: a bronze bracelet from the First Iron Age at “Les Sauvages”. Nearby, some fragments of Roman tiles suggest a Gallo-Roman villa.
To the east of the commune, in woodland, lies the site of the Priory of Notre-Dame de Puyfoucaud, founded in the first half of the twelfth century by the Abbey of La Couronne. This priory must have been quite important, for its holdings extended to the parishes of Saint Laurent, Charmant, Gardes and Gurat.
In the Middle Ages, mainly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Saint Amant was located on a secondary north-south route of the Via Turonensis, the pilgrimage trail to Santiago de Compostella via Nanteuil-en-Vallée, Saint-Amant-de-Boixe, Angoulême, Mouthiers, Blanzac, Puypéroux, Montmoreau and Aubeterre.
The oldest parish registers date back to 1690.
The village of Saint-Eutrope is situated in the northwest of the commune of Montmoreau. It is the highest point (186 m) not only of Montmoreau but of all the South-Charente. Its territory is small in surface area (less than 3 km2), and elongated (3.5 km long by 0.5 km wide). It covers an area of ??267 ha and has 169 inhabitants.
It is located on a hilly and wooded summit where some small streams originate: the Grande Fontaine and the Font Désirade which flow towards the South West and feed the Tude, downstream of Montmoreau.
The majority (90%) of the inhabitants are concentrated in the village. The hamlets of this ‘delegated’ commune are small and are mainly farms: Bel-Air, Grosses Pierres, Maine Blanchard, Chez Galais, Perry.
The village, built on cretacious limestone, was above all renowned for its manufacture of solid pottery, until the 19th century. In the 18th century, no less than 30 families worked there, with 25 kilns. In 1841, Saint-Eutrope had 140 potters. This figure went down to a dozen artisans in the aftermath of the First World War.
The clay was then used as a building material by the Bel-Air tile mill until 1986.
In Grand Perry there was also an iron mine.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Saint Eutrope de la Lande was a priory. Its Romanesque church from the 12th century testifies to its antiquity.
Saint-Eutrope was first known as the Sanctus Eutropius of Landa. During the Revolution, Saint-Eutrope was called "La Poterie", then "Utrope".
Saint-Eutrope has always been a lively commune. Indeed, several businesses have been started there. Today it has five companies. It is good to live in Saint-Eutrope thanks to its many events managed by its dynamic ‘comite des fetes.’
SAINT-MARTIAL CHURCH (AIGNES)
No historical texts exist to provide a date when the church at Aignes was first built.
However the bell tower, which is of Romanesque architecture, dates from the end of the 12th century. Rebuilt between the 18th and 19th centuries, it includes a rectangular nave, a dome with pendentives* where the bell tower crosses with a small semicircular apse - known as a cul de four - which is lit by small arched windows.
*a construction technique allowing a curved dome to be placed on a square structure
Another distinctive building is the Abbey of Puypéroux. Former place of sanctuary for Benedictines taking refuge in Blanzac at the time of the wars of religion, it had long been abandoned. But around 1836 Father Michon discovered it and made it a place of education for young girls. Thus was born the abbey of Notre-Dame des Anges. In 1965 the congregation of the Holy Family of Bordeaux took up residence there; however by 2005 there were only five sisters left. They returned to their place of origin and the abbey was sold to the Maison Familiale Rurale du Sud Charente. Since then young students have replaced the sisters.
An ideal venue for events, the association of Respir'jazz holds its annual festival there each July.
SAINT-DENYS CHURCH (MONTMOREAU)
Located on one of the routes of Saint-Jacques de Compostelle - the Via Turonensis (Chemin de Tours) - the church of Saint-Denys de Montmoreau was built in the 12th century. Its original appearance has been preserved, except for the Romanesque belfry which was modified during the 19th century by Paul Abadie.
The chevet is decorated with a prominent horizontal band supported by sculptures of human and animal faces. The magnificent Romanesque frontispiece is made up of an arched gate in which five arches form an archivolt which rests on slender columns with carved capitals. The inside arch is decorated with six lobes featuring the heads of symbolic animals. All the decoration bears witness to an eastern influence in the Romanesque architecture of the south-west, and above all, to the skill of the sculptors.
To make up for the slope of the ground, the main door opens onto an elevated nathex (porch) with ten steps leading down to one of the largest naves in the region.
A beautiful dome on pendentives is above the transept crossing. A distinctive feature of the church in Montmoreau is that the sculpted arches lead directly to form the triangular shape of the pendentives, the whole structure elegantly complementing the lower curve of the round dome.
The small chapel (absidiole) on the south arm of the transept has a rounded doorway, which however seems to date from later than the 12th century. The small chapel in the north arm is in a gothic style and seems to have been redone in the 15th century. An apse with a half-domed vault houses the choir.
Many of the carved capitals on top of the columns are decorated with acanthus leaves, a motif which was widely used around 1175. The most outstanding ones depict allegorical scenes.
In the heart of rolling countryside, the Church of Saint-Amand, perched on the top of a hill, has a beautiful view looking towards the centre of Montmoreau. The Church is surrounded by buildings of outstanding architectural beauty: the Mairie and the old presbytery.
Construction of the church began in the twelfth century. At that time it formed part of the diocese of Périgueux and was a dependency of the abbey of Nanteuil-en-Vallée in northern Charente. By the 19th century, the poor state of the Romanesque church necessitated restoration works, which were undertaken from 1860 to 1883.
The Church is dedicated to Saint Amand, the bishop of Bordeaux in the fifth century.
The plan of the building is rectangular: a single nave, a square bell tower and a flat chevet. The wooden nave of today was originally stone-vaulted. The square bell tower is topped by a pendentive dome. The sanctuary has a barrel vault. The nave shelters some well-preserved neo-gothic furniture from the nineteenth century: a station of the Cross, a pulpit and a painting of Saint Amand.
On the south wall of the tower are traces of a mural, sadly very damaged, but one can still distinguish one of the characters - a tonsured cleric. These remnants are a reminder that most churches were decorated in medieval times. Painted scenes covered the interior, more in the sanctuary reserved for the religious orders than in the nave which housed the congregation. The external walls were often colourfully painted as well but sadly, deliberately removed or otherwise, little remains today.
On the north side of the Church, the doorway has sculptures characteristic of the style of the first French renaissance which developed during the first half of the sixteenth century: foliage, medallions and lozenges. On either side of the doorway, two niches originally containing statues are now empty. This doorway, built later at the time of the Renaissance, was perhaps reserved for the use of the lord whose house was a few steps from the Church (now the site of the Mairie).
The walls of the chevet and the bell tower have been heightened and rectangular windows have been inserted. These changes enabled the addition of an elevated place of refuge and surveillance of the surrounding countryside during the Hundred Years War or the Wars of Religion.
Originally built in the 11th or 12th century, the church of Saint-Eutrope was built on the site of a former place of worship. It was initially for the resident curate belonging to the abbey of Cluny.
The building was restored and modified at the end of the 19th century by the architect Paul Abadie who had the bell tower redesigned by adding a second floor, each side having three bays with two arches on each side topped by a pyramid-shaped arrow. It has a wooden frame covered with slates.
Shortly before the storm of 1999, some work was carried out to restore its original character, in particular the unvaulted nave, thus revealing the original wooden framework. This work made it possible to update a small door to the outside located to the left of the nave and near the choir, such a door being found in many Romanesque churches (like the church of Montmoreau). The location of these doors would evoke the thrust of the lance into the heart of Christ on the cross. The opening was transformed into a niche in order to house the statue of the Virgin and infant Jesus.
The bell tower houses two bells: the first weighs 110 kg and dates from 1725, the second weighs 375 kg and dates from 1890. The exterior staircase leading to the bell tower is very special. It is of the self-supporting type: that is to say that each step sealed in the wall rests partly on the previous one. There are two more staircases of this type in the village.
The commune of Saint-Eutrope derives its name from the Greek language. Eu means "good" and trope "who turns to” thus making “d’ou eutrope” as heading in or taking the right direction.
An account of Gregory of Tours (538 / 539-594) has Saint Eutrope as the first bishop of Saintes and a martyr in the third century. His presumed tomb, rediscovered in the 7th century, became one of the stages of the pilgrimage to Compostela, which spread its popularity. "Today St. Eutrope is the symbolic figure of the first evangelisation of Saintonge. But if it is difficult to dispute his historical authenticity, nothing is really known of his activity, or even the exact epoch in which he lived "(Site Nominis).
Saint Eutrope is celebrated on the 30th of April, and the saying "Saint Eutrope wet, ruined cherries” continues to this day.
The village fete takes place on the last weekend of April, which is the first day of April according to the Roman calendar, and the date that history keeps for the martyrdom of the saint.
THE “CHÂTEAU” OF MONTMOREAU
The “château” of Montmoreau rises on top of a natural hill which dominates the valley of the Tude. Centuries of instability and disorder which followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, the invasions of the Spanish Arabs around the year 700, and the Viking raids in 844 added to the unrest of the people living in the area. The disintegration of the Carolingian empire led to the breakup of centres of power from which feudalism was then born. This was the reason, during the tenth and eleventh centuries, for the large number of fortified camps, often built on mounds of earth (in a style known as “motte castrale”) which are the origin of many of the chateaux of today.
The hill of Montmoreau provided a natural mound, perfect for building what was certainly at first just a simple fortified camp which then became a feudal castle in the 11th century. It was built as a base or platform enclosed by double fortified walls. The two round towers of the building belonged to the feudal chateau, as did the porch of the chapel of Notre Dame situated in the first encircling wall, but traces of other styles can definitely be found in the site.
The chateau of today was built in the same location, in the middle of the fifteenth century, perhaps by Guy de Mareuil, the lord of Montmoreau, Villebois and Mareuil. With the exception of the two feudal towers, all the construction is partly gothic and partly Renaissance. The chateau bears perfect witness to this turning point in history, between a world which was ending and a world which was beginning. Over the course of the centuries, it seems that the different lords and then owners of the chateau never had enough money to add to the building in styles of their own period, as one can see with many other chateaux. The chateau of Montmoreau, kept the same since its construction, therefore provides an exceptional example of well-preserved architectural heritage. The renovations undertaken by the current owner have added to the stability of the buildings and have revealed original features under various later alterations.
Towards the east and dominating the valley of the Tude, the façade of the chateau is striking, with its high walls flanked by two round feudal towers and sloping roofs with flat tiles from which emerge the chimneys. On the side of the north tower, about mid-way up, it is possible to see an ancient door which opened onto the ramparts of the chateau. The gothic gables of the main building are covered in foliage-decorated scrolls made of stone. Their bases sit on two sculptures of fearsome lions, one with its mouth open towards the north, the other towards the south, and they are crowned with a finial. To the north and the south, a small building, “un pavillon”, is built against the gable with that to the south having its original three-sided roof.
Towards the west, the façade which looks out over the park, is a mix of styles from different eras. The Renaissance mullioned windows retain gothic motifs. The hexagonal tower of the stairs juts out onto the façade. This has a very beautiful door, in a flamboyant gothic style, the ribbed archway decorated with intertwined foliage which has been virtually worn away by the passage of time. But looking carefully, one can see to the right the profile of a bird amongst the leaves. Perhaps the signature of the stonemason? In the angle of this tower and the façade, a watchtower rises up, with a sharp pinnacle covered in “essentes”, shingles made from sweet chestnut, with a lampstand-shaped, “cul de lampe”, base which is of the Renaissance style.
The fashion for alchemy can be seen in the sculptures. First of all, at the base of the turret, a strange little squat person is none other than the alchemist himself. Next to him, a drum, the symbol of harmony and in his hand, a telescope to gaze into the mysteries and appearances of things. This figure is unique in the region. Above his head, the engraved column represent his thoughts. From bottom to top, one finds:
Two apples or two retorts symbolising the philosopher’s stone
Two figures symbolising man and woman
Four circles symbolising the four elements
A winged snake and a slithering snake symbolising the ephemeral spirit and the earthbound spirit.
A fig tree and a mix of leaves symbolising the tree of life
Finally, at the top, a bat, the emblem of science and learning
The restorative work undertaken by the current owner has concentrated on the structure and the listed roofs which were under threat of ruin. The structure, like an overturned ship, has been completely mended along a length of thirty metres. All the roofs have been mended according to techniques of the period, and whenever possible, with authentic materials. The work is now concentrating on the west wall where the openings have been changed many times over the course of the centuries. On the inside, the large hall on the ground floor, the chimney, paved flooring, walls and windows are completely restored. Ornamental tiling in “coeur de demoiselles” is laid in the tower and the small south building. The wall of about one hundred metres which, since the 15th century, was the boundary of the park towards the south, has disappeared, with only the foundations remaining. It is in the process of being rebuilt. As for the large path which flanks the north of the hill as one climbs up to the chateau, lime trees have been found, which one day, will be the size of those which the storm of 1999 destroyed.
Warning. The castle used to be a private property opened to visitors. But this is no longer the case because the Notre-Dame chapel has started to crumble and the south tower is unstable. We’re waiting for the approval of the Monuments historiques in order to start the necessary restoration work.
THE NOTRE-DAME CHAPEL
The Notre-Dame chapel formed part of the first wall of the chateau and no longer exists today, apart from its lower part. The building was classified as monument historique in 1952. Sited on the northern path of the hill, it is made up of two distinct parts, belonging to different eras – the nave porch and the chapel proper.
Entry to the building is by the nave porch. This is the most ancient part, dating from the end of the 10th century. It has two vaulted arches of unequal size because the double arch which unites them is not at a right angle. The walls north and south of the principal vault leading to the porch are pierced by two high arcades without doors. The vault to the west has no opening. It is higher than the main vault but smaller and narrower. It forms the narthex (lobby or entrance porch) of the place of worship. Towards the east, a low arcade provides access to the chapel. Its north/south orientation makes the nave the porch of the chateau, whilst its west-east liturgical tradition serves as the vestibule of the chapel.
The sanctuary of the chapel proper is said to date from the end of the eleventh century. It was constructed on the plan of the holy sepulchre. It has a Romanesque rotunda from which radiate three small apses with unequally spaced pillars. The free-standing columns support eight pillars from which rises the central dome of 5.85 metres in diameter. These columns are decorated with magnificent capitals. In one of the small apses evidence of a baptismal font can be found: it is reminiscent of the stone sinks of the old rural houses of the region. This chapel was covered with frescos, which have now disappeared. It sheltered the relics offered for veneration by pilgrims. One can see a strange rudimentary font, in the shape of a trough.
This type of building offered shelter to pilgrims and a place of prayer until the drawbridge was raised. They were also able to find a place of refuge within the first wall of the chateau, but without the ability to access the other buildings.