The church of Notre Dame
The church of Molières is dedicated to Our Lady of the Nativity. It is a large rectangular building measuring 32 by 12 metres, built in the 13th century, shortly after the foundation of the Bastide.
The church was built in the Plantagenet Gothic style and is a good example of the early Gothic architecture in the region. The building had a single nave, ending in the east with a flat chevet. The four bays of the exceptionally wide nave were covered with ribbed vaults and reinforced by buttresses. The façade was flanked by two square towers.
A fortress church
In those troubled times at the end of the 13th century, the church did not only have a religious function. Like many other churches in the region (e.g. Beaumont-du-Périgord), it also had a function of defence and protection of the population in case of attack. The inhabitants, entire families, often accompanied by their farm animals or even cattle, took refuge within its thick walls.
You can still see the cavity inside the west and north doors where a strong beam was placed to resist the penetration of a battering ram.
Originally, the church had two towers with rooms on two levels, in which food supplies were stored.
In the southern tower, which has now disappeared, the first floor was accessed by a ladder (as often in dungeons). From there, a steep and narrow staircase, built in the thickness of the wall of the west facade, led discreetly to the other tower, the north tower, which now serves as a bell tower. This secret passage (which still exists) allowed the defenders to move secretly and safely from one tower to the other. The bell tower is the most authentic.
At the top of the bell tower, traces of bolt holes can be seen, which makes it possible to imagine a series of walkways that contributed to the defence of the building.
Inside the church, a wooden walkway, a veritable inner fortress, protected the main door, the weak point of the building. Only the corbels that supported the beams remain.
A text written by a 19th century priest in Molières confirms the presence of a well inside the church. The inhabitants, who had taken refuge in the church, had to be able to drink! The location of this well, which has since been filled in, cannot be determined with certainty.
An eventful history
The church was destroyed several times. Each time, it was restored and even rebuilt.
During the Wars of Religion, around 1580, the church was burnt by the Huguenots and their captain Chans de Monsac.
After the collapse of the roof vaults, probably due to the weakness of the buttresses, they were replaced by panelling in November 1771.
On the Napoleonic cadastre of 1841, only the north tower and the eastern half of the church were shown as existing. The western half of the nave, including the south tower, had collapsed and is described as a public square. A drawing by Leo Drouyn, dated 21 June 1846, shows this building partially in ruins. Inside the church, the whitewashed parts of the walls still indicate the part of the church that was left standing.
During the second half of the 19th century, major reconstruction work was undertaken, largely financed by the faithful and the commune. We will come back to this later.
The building was partially listed as a historic monument on 12 October 1948, as only the bell tower and the facades were concerned. On 28 January 2013, the entire building was listed.
Around 1850, the roof of the church was repaired. The old panelling was replaced by “basket-handle” panelling *. To do this, the walls were raised by 2 metres by reusing the stones of the buttresses.
The south tower was not rebuilt but replaced by a buttress on the outside and in 1893 a small neo-Gothic chapel was built inside.
In 1888, the flat chevet on the east façade underwent major work. A five-sided choir in neo-Gothic style was built inside the original rectangle and decorated with a series of stained glass windows. The windows depict the life of the Virgin Mary and were made by Henri Feur *.
* Henri Feur was a renowned master glass artist from Bordeaux. He also made the stained glass windows in the church of St. Peter in Bordeaux.
New windows were made in the side walls to improve the natural lighting of the church.
In 1894, the magnificent Stations of the Cross, made of cast iron, were installed. Each plate weighs a good 150kg. It was financed by the subscriptions from the faithful.
... and undo!
A major restoration was carried out between 1979 and 1983 under the supervision of the “Architectes des Bâtiments de France”.
The architect in charge of the project decided that it would be appropriate to restore the church to its original state, i.e:
- The neo-Gothic choir, which was added a century earlier, should be demolished;
- the basket-handle roof and the old roof structure should be removed and
- the newly opened windows must be filled in.
Needless to say, many villagers did not appreciate all these planned changes.
A compromise was finally reached: the choir could remain, the rest was to be removed.
The result is our church as we know it today:
- a roof made of visible trusses placed in line with the supports of the old vaults, partially hiding the top of the neo-Gothic choir;
- the raised wall for the basket-handle panelling is visible;
- the sequence of the stained glass windows relating the life of the Virgin Mary has not been respected: the presentation of the Virgin, as a child, in the Temple, is now just before the one representing her death;
- on the walls, both inside and outside, easily identifiable traces left by the walling of certain windows.
But despite all these scars from the passage of time and men, or precisely because of all these traces, it remains magnificent and unique. And it invites you to discover its eventful history.
In any case, we hope that our little story will make you want to go through the door of our church and try to understand, discover and appreciate it, as we did!