The construction of the church of Saint-Pierre de Sémelay could have begun in 1076, the date of the attachment of Sémelay to the abbey of Cluny. This construction was completed 80 years later, and would have covered the successive abbeys of Saint Hugues, Pons de Melguel, and Pierre le Vénérable. The church probably takes its name from this last abbot.
This former priory church, which depended on the abbey of Cluny, would have remained intact had it not been for the amputation of its front façade and the first bay of the nave and aisles in 1781-1782. It was classified as a historical monument in 1889 and is one of the Cluny sites.
DESCRIPTION OF THE EXTERIOR
From the outside, you can admire the square, massive bell tower, lit on the bell level by twin round-headed bays separated by geminated columns.
DESCRIPTION OF THE INTERIOR
The church of St Peter is oriented, with a Latin cross plan with circular apses and apsidioles, and a bell tower on the transept crossing. The three-bay nave is flanked by two aisles. The transept has a single vessel, the arms of which open onto an apsidal chapel to the east and the aisles to the west. The choir consists of an apse and a straight bay flanked on the left by the sacristy. You can see the groin vaults on the nave and the side aisles, the barrel vaults on the straight choir bay and on the transept arms, and the cross vaults on the apse and the apses. The transept with its regular crossing is covered by an octagonal dome on trunks.
The severity of the architecture is mitigated by the sculptures that enliven the capitals and the bases of the columns in the apse and the apses.
The church of Sémelay is famous not only for its Romanesque architecture and its belonging to the Cluniac sites, but also for the forty or so sculpted capitals that can be admired. With the exception of the geometric motifs limited to the ornamentation of the bases and tailloirs, the decoration is mostly of plant inspiration, sometimes populated with characters or animals (pig, eagle, etc.). Several capitals are decorated with scenes whose identification remains uncertain, but in which the themes of Original Sin, Chastisement and Lust have been recognised.
Another remarkable feature as you enter on your right is a large font carved into the stone, resting on a capital that probably comes from the first bay of the nave, which was destroyed in 1782. Two eagles with outstretched wings are depicted overcoming a snake.
OPEN YOUR EYE!
A 17th century polychrome wooden statue depicts the education of the Virgin Mary by her mother Anne. Have you found it?