Cressac

THE CHAPEL

All four walls of the Templar chapel of Cressac-Saint-Genis (in the Charente department in southwestern France) used to be decorated with paintings, executed probably around 1200. The paintings on the South Wall have disappared entirely, while those on other walls have lacunae. It is possible to fill some of these thanks to the watercolors made by Eugène Sadoux in 1872.

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THE NORTH WALL (THE UPPER BAND)

The paintings on the North Wall consists of two bands, one above the other, both of them representing crusader warfare. The paintings on the upper band have been executed slightly earlier than those of the lower band.

The upper band of the North Wall contains a representation of a single military encounter. Following Paul Deschamps, Christian Davy has identified it as the Battle of Antioch (1098), the subject of the paintings of Hardham and Poncé-sur-le-Loir and of the sculptures of Damerham and Fordington.

The less convincing — yet more frequently found — identification of the battle is that of the Battle of al-Buqaia (1163). In this battle, fought in the vicinities of the crusader castle Krak des Chevaliers, the forces of Nour ad Din Zangi were defeated by the Franks. The Franks were led by King Amalric of Jerusalem, joined by a large group of French pilgrims, including Hugh VIII of Lusignan and Geoffrey Martel, the brother of William IV of Angoulême.

On the extreme left of the upper band, crusaders are leaving a city, in which a Church with a bell tower is clearly visible.

Upper Band 1

It is tempting to identify the knight leading the troops as St. George (as at Hardham), but Christian Davy has argued that this would be erroneous, since the knight does not have a halo.

Upper Band 2

As is often the case in crusader imagery, the Saracens are identified by their round shields.

Upper Band 3

The Saracens escape into the gates of a city.

Upper Band 5

THE NORTH WALL (THE LOWER BAND)

The subject of the scene on the lower band of the North Wall is enigmatic.

On the extreme left, two men on foot, one of them turning back and blowing a horn, follow two ‘civilian’ riders.

Cressac (lower band) 1

A knight addresses them.

Lower Band 2

A group of soldiers ride towards the East. One of them, with a lance resting on his shoulder, is ahead of the rest.

Lower Band 3

Futher to the right, a group of knigths charges the Saracens.

Lower Band 5

The Saracens are identifiable by their round shields. To the right of them, two soldiers on foot lead a group of civilians.

Lower Band 6

This group seems to be proceeding from the camp with tents decorated with various geometrical motifs.

Lower Band 7

To the right, there is a battle scene. Perhaps because of the state of conservation of the paintings, the two groups are indistinguishable (there are no round shields to identify the Saracens).

Lower Band 8  Lower Band 9

THE WEST WALL

St. George fights the dragon as a princess watches on.

St. George 1

Emperor Constantine (on the West Wall)

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ACCESS

The village of Cressac-Saint-Genis is just south of Blanzac (2 km). The nearest large town is Angoulême (32 km). At least in 2013, it was possible to visit the chapel between 3 and 5 pm, from Tuesday through Saturday, during Summer months only. The rest of the year, it was necessary to call Comité de découverte du patrimoine en Blanzaçais (05-45-64-07-31) or the office de tourisme du Blanzaçais (05-45-64-14-88).

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Christian Davy,  “Les peintures murales romanes de la chapelle des templiers de Cressac.” Congrès archéologique de France, 153 (1995 / 1999) : 171-177.

Michelle Gaborit,  “La commanderie de Cressac.” Bernard Brochard and Yves-Jean Riou, eds., Les Peintures murales de Poitou Charente, 78-79. Saint Savin, 1993.

Paul Deschamps,  “Combats de cavalerie et épisodes des croisades dans les peintures murales.” Orientalia christiana periodica 13 (1947): 172-174.

Paul Deschamps, “La légende de St. Georges et les combats des croisés dans le Moyen Age.” Monuments et Mémoires publiés pour l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. Fondation Eugène Piot 44 (1950): 109-123.