Catholic Patrimony: Baroque in the Savoy

A typical Savoy church, very sober outside

I promised you an article of some discoveries I made during my recent holidays in the Savoy, an area which has been a part of France since 1860. As a keen amateur of all things Sarum, gothic churches, riddle posts and all that kind of thing, I should remind myself and you that our real aim is the preservation of Catholic patrimony. This article is about Les Chemins du Baroque, the Baroque Ways, of the Savoy.

The valleys of the Savoy offer an extremely rich artistic and spiritual patrimony from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. One is struck by the sobriety of the church buildings and the most breathtaking polychrome and gold leaf altars. A whole series of these churches is to be found in the valleys of Maurienne, Tarentaise, Beaufort (famous for its cheese) and the Val d’Arly. They map out a way of light, faith and joy of a people which lived a hard and rustic life in the long winters of the European Alps. Most of these works of art have been lovingly restored by various public authorities and private associations. The Chemins du Baroque was established as a major attraction of the area at the winter Olympic Games of Albertville in 1992. Since then, thousands of people have discovered these priceless treasures.

Baroque church art is a fruit of the Council of Trent in its work of reform and resistance to Protestantism in the sixteenth century. This Council affirmed the place of images in prayer and the need the human person has of being evangelised through the senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. The spiritual renewal was reflected in the Italian artistic rebirth, a whole catechism in images and joyful colour.

Many of these altars were built by modest artists and the people in the villages. The style in the Savoy is naïve and fresh. The reredos behind the altar is high and typically includes two or four pillars, having their origin in the Roman baldachino and the English riddle posts. The origin is the same. The columns are usually in the torsado form, like at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The general style is clearly Italian, but more ‘rustic’ and naïve.

Here is one of my favourites, a little side altar:

If any of you consider visiting this wonderful part of France, I would recommend the following sites:

Author: Fr. Anthony Chadwick

Father Anthony Chadwick was born in the north of England into an Anglican family. He was educated in one of the Church of England’s most well-known schools, St. Peter’s in York, at which he was nurtured in the Anglican musical tradition. After several years studying and working in London he studied theology at university level in Switzerland, Italy and France. Still living in France, he has been a priest of the Traditional Anglican Communion (under Archbishop Hepworth) since 2005. Fr. Chadwick is charged with chaplaincy work among dispersed Anglicans in the north of France, is married and lives in Normandy. His interests outside the Church and directly religious matters include classical music, DIY and sailing. As a non-stipendiary priest, he earns his living as a technical translator.

1 thought on “Catholic Patrimony: Baroque in the Savoy”

  1. Thanks for these lovely photos and thoughts about this part of France.

    When I was in Sherbrooke, Quebec, it wrenched my heart to see a big, brick church that had had its front door gutted to turn the building into a restaurant, with green plastic tables and umbrellas in the church yard.


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