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Report 2029: France 2012 Part 1 - The Loire Valley
By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2012
Page 15 of 33: To the Northwest - Azay-le-Rideau and Église St-Symphorien
Window above the west door of Église St-Symphorien
The town grew up in the 11thC around the château and a Benedictine priory belonging to the Abbey of Cormery. There is little left from this period apart from the parish church as the town was destroyed in the early 15thC. The present château was built in the 16thC in the Italian style. The small chapel on the bridge over the Indre was built at the same time and the seigneurial water mill is 17thC. Most of the houses in the town date from the 18th and 19thC and are large elegant buildings of the local white tufa stone with dark slate roofs and often with small wrought iron balconies. There are some nice examples along Rue Balzac and Rue Gambetta.
Streets are narrow with narrow pavements. It is a thriving, busy place with both locals and tourists. It has a good range of shops. There is a large car park off Rue Nacionale to the right alongside the river. From here it is a short walk to the château.
Église St-Symphorien was the priory church. The rest of the buildings were demolished after the Revolution when the château grounds were extended. The main entrance is off the old market place which was the heart of the old town. The market hall was rebuilt in 20thC after a fire.
The church is 12thC apart from the south transept which is later and built in the classical style with flat pillars with fluted tops on the outside and a dome above. Over the transept is a short tower with a pointed tile roof with stairs in the adjacent round tower. The nave is older than the north aisle, giving the west end an asymmetrical appearance. The door into the nave has a carved portico with a narrow carved canopy over it. Above is a tall round topped window with embossed flowers round the archway and a ledge on either side supported by carved animal heads. On either side of the window are carvings of seven saints set in small round topped niches. There are another seven figures above the top of the window with Christ as the central figure. The remains of an earlier roof line can be seen with decorative triangles of diamond shaped tiles.
To the left, a plain wooden doorway with a carved scroll above leads into the north aisle. Above is a large Gothic window with blank niches on either side.
Coming in from the bright sunlight, the inside of the church felt very dark as the only light is through long narrow stained glass windows. The windows are 19thC apart from those on the south wall which were destroyed in the Second World War.
The nave has large fluted pillars with acanthus capitals supporting the tall vaulted ceiling. Pointed arches lead into the north aisle. There is a carved wooden pulpit with a cupola shaped canopy above with an angel holding a cross. On the walls are framed carvings of the Stations of the Cross.
The apse at the east end has carved angel heads at the base of the ceiling ribs. There are the remains of frescoes on the walls. The carved stone altar has figures carved along the base and a carved stone host box in the shape of a church porch with pinnacles on the corners.
There is a simple stone altar at the end of the north aisle with a statue of the Virgin above. The south transept altar is no longer used. A stone portico surrounds a painting of the Good Shepherd with his flock of sheep.
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