Abbaye Saint-Philibert in Tournus: tranverse barrel vault FOR THE WIN!

We visited stark Abbaye Saint-Philibert in Tournus on a chilly winter day.  (If you’re also visiting in winter, bundle up!)  The interior was….ingenious.  Apparently transverse barrel vaulting was invented here and it’s an engineering feet which turns the vaults that normally run the length of the church’s nave sideways, like a half barrel, and transfers the weight of the ceiling onto the arches below.  The transverse arches captures the light uniquely–I recommend visiting Saint-Philbert several times in a day to enjoy the effect.

Tournus is a lovely, un-touristy town.  We day tripped from-Beune, that ghetto of wine-swigging rich tourists.  I wish we stayed the night in Tournus instead.


Massive gate towers on either side of the entrance to St. Philibert.


The austere, fortress-like entrance.


Blind arch bands on the facade.



Transverse barrel vault and groin vault.  The columns are massive and the fancy stripes on the arches reminded me of Cordoba.


For such and old church, the nave is astonishingly high.  See how the transverse arches hold the light like lampshades?  How cool is that!


A chapel in the upper story which doubled as a shelter when the town was under siege.


Relief sculpture in the upper level.  This well-ear-endowed man is the symbol of Tournus.



Notre-Dame-La-Brune from the second half of the 12th century.  She is actively worshiped to this day.


One of the church’s 12th century mosaics in the ambulatory.  Don’t you wish you could ride a horse while carrying a falcon?


We walked a bit and stopped in café (inexplicably filled with bowling trophies) where we met the town drunk of Tournus.


Another church in Tournus.


This is what Americans eat, according to a fine dining establishment in Tournus.  (Now excuse me, I have to run and eat my three burger and french fry hoagie for lunch….nom nom).


How we got to Tournus: train from Beaune.  (Note: if you’re travelling out Tournus by train, be aware that there is no station attendant and the ticket machines only take credit cards.  Since American credit cards aren’t accepted by French ticket machines, we couldn’t buy a ticket and had to pay a fellow passenger cash to buy one for us with his credit card.  Oops.)

Where we slept: Hotel De France Logis.  Price: €60 for a double.  Recommended: yes.






  1. I am enjoying your accounts of your visits…for the places I knew and the ones I did not!


    1. Thanks for being such a great reader, Helen!


  2. I spent one night in Tournus with my daughter in 1997. I wish we’d gone into the church! Your nave photos are great.


    1. Thanks buntymcc!


  3. You say you met the town drunk in a bar, but all I see is a picture of you…your alter ego, perhaps?


    1. LOL–could be!


  4. WOB, this is one of the great accomplishments of medieval architecture (there is only one other like it, at nearby Mont Saint Vincent). By placing the vaults in parallel, the builders were able to transfer the outward stresses to the adjacent barrel vault, canceling each other out. Also allowed for windows at either end of the vault, giving that lampshade effect that you liked so much. Thanks for this post on one of our favorite churches (made more special by the visit with Angelico Surchamp the last time we were there.)


    1. I’m constantly impressed by both the engineering and artistic advancements during the Romanesque era.


      1. Agree completely. This, to me, is the real Renaissance, where principals were originally derived in architecture.


  5. Must visit this … there are so many places I’d love to see in France.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you get a chance. The small towns in France are my favorite.


      1. That’s the trouble with having a holiday home – you don’t go to other places! Perhaps we’ll drive down and stop off on the way one day.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Under the category of “good problem to have” that…. 🙂


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