Notre Dame la Grande is a Romanesque church though to be constructed in the 11th century located in Poitiers of Poitou Charentes. Very little is known about this church’s origin of the name or the exact construction date; however, the earliest mention of the church is in 924 A.D. from the Redon cartulary, where hundreds of manuscripts and documents up to the 12th century were preserved. The church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and every Easter Monday the statue of the Virgin Mary, known as the “Virgin of the Keys” was paraded around the ramparts of the town. This statue is still preserved and kept in the choir room of the church. The beauty of the church is not only found in the mysteriousness and records of its history, but also through the sculpted stories on the façade of the church.
The wide façade is covered in carvings of saints and biblical figures, and can be divided in three tiers. The bottom tier is, I believe, to be the most enchanting part of the church when looked at closely. It tells the biblical story from Adam and Eve to the Annunciation, where the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary, to the birth of Christ shown from right to left; The Drama of the Prophets, as one website puts it. Though it is not “perfect” sculpting, it is still beautiful to observe and to see the detail and yet simplicity of each story. The second tier has quite larger sculptures of the 12 apostles and the two local bishops on either side. Divided in half, is a grand arched stained glass window, and between each apostle is elaborate decor sculpting. The top-tier has a pediment decorated with a Christ in Glory surrounded by a tretamorph mandorla. A mandorla is an oval figure that is used in architecture that typically encloses Jesus or the Virgin Mary, and as used in this church’s architecture, the mandorla is surrounded by four differing elements, which is known as a tretamorph. The sculpting is quite interesting to look at, even though Jesus is now headless in the sculpture due to weather or other unfortunate causes.
The interior decoration of the original church is not quite known. There is only one surviving fresco that is located in the Choir. The church has remained relatively the same in architecture and has only received renovations to the façade and to the interior decorations. In the 19th century, artists painted geometrical designs on the columns. The stained-glass windows and furniture also date back to the 19th and 20th century. However, the Romanesque architecture and decorations provide the church with a deep history and enticement for tourists to come visit. Though the church is not particularly “grande,” the name of the church hints that in its Romanesque period, it, in fact, was the largest church in the city.