Romanesque in the Slopes
At only 65 kilometers in length, Stage 17 of the 2018 Tour will be fast and furious. We can expect attacks from the very start, especially as the day begins with an uphill climb to the Col de Peyresourde. Not long after departing Bagneres-de-Luchon, however, some 6-kilometers on the slope, is the town of Saint-Aventin, perched on the slopes of the Lys Valley. Here the town sits several hundred meters above the One River. For this reason, Saint-Aventin is a picturesque cross-section of a village. Perched like a sentinel above the Tour route, Saint-Aventin’s claim to fame is its notable Romanesque church. Perhaps because of its location on the Spanish border, not to mention along a former pilgrimage route that would have brought international travelers and ideas, the Eglise Saint-Aventin is the largest in this part of the Pyrenees. The was dedicated to a local 8th century shepherd named Aventin, who evangelized the surrounding hills and Moors, becoming a martyred saint in the process. The church was built in the 11th century to house the remains of the saint. The church is really a relatively complex example of Romanesque architecture. It features not one, but two steeples and Lombard chevets, or ornamental semi-circular rotundas behind the altar. The overall effect is a striking structural composition that is rather unique for such an isolated small village setting. Where Saint-Aventin, however, is truly unique is its iconography. As opposed to the portals that we previously explored at Chartres, the representation and symbols used to depict Christ are a variation more closely utilized in examples at Burgos, Santiago de Compostela, and a few others in southern France. In any case, the stone-carved figures and general architectural novelty of the Eglise Saint-Aventin are worth discovering.