Visit St. Symphorien Church
St. Symphorien Church is on the road to the right of the Chateau entrance. The West front has a portion of wall from the 9C, (the right half) The pointed arch window was cut in much later. There are arches inside which are identified as early 11C carving and show surpising technic
Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, Salamanders & Ermines, 2
“A court without women, it is like a garden without flowers.”
— François I (1494-1547)
Although François I confiscated Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, it was never an official royal residence. The king visited once. The explanation for the many salamanders, the emblem of François that decorate the castle, could be flattery. By picturing the diminutive lizard throughout the château the king might be happy and overlook the financial transgressions of Gilles Berthelot, the castle’s owner; it did not work.
Magnificently carved salamanders and more humble ones can be seen over the front door and fireplaces. He chose the amphibian because of the long-held misconception about the creature’s ability to resist and conjure fire; therefore the king adopted it as a symbol of invincibility. François thought of fire as a metaphor for war, the manipulation of fire represented his ability to control the waging of war.
The ermine, the emblem of François’s queen Claude, is among the only creatures that mates for life. As long as Claude was alive, François paired his salamander with her ermine, as if they were partners for life, which they were according their marriage vows; but François had the roving eye and he did have mistresses.
During his reign, François kept two official mistresses at court. He was the first king to give these fortunate ladies the title, maîtresse-en-titre, “official royal mistress.” The first official mistress to hold the title was Françoise de Foix, Comtesse de Châteaubriand. Not only was the king cheating on his wife with an official mistress, he was cheating on the mistress with other mistresses. Among these lesser mistresses was Mary Boleyn, sister of Henry VIII’s future wife, Anne Boleyn.
In 1526, two years after Queen Claude’s death and four years before François’s second marriage to Eleanor of Austria, a sister of the Emperor Charles V, Françoise de Foix was replaced by the blonde-haired Anne de Pisseleu d’Heilly, Duchesse d’Étampes (1508-1580) as maîtresse-en-titre.
Azay-le-Rideau - Central Staircase
The central staircase was Azay-le-Rideau's most significant design feature. It is consisted of three straight flights with landings, instead of the spiral staircase that was usual for the period.
The striking interior stairecase is behind an intricatedly decorated pediment with three stories of twin bays.
Many facial scuptures are carved on the stone on the 'ceilings'.
Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, Its Interiors, Part II
La Grande Salle, Photo #1
Here in the Great Hall balls and feasts were held. Over the monumental fireplace is the symbol of François I, the salamander; also the molding of curling foliage gives a hint at what the decoration of this room was like before much of it was removed. Also some beautiful tapestries of the 16th and 17th centuries are displayed here.
La Grande Chambre, Photo #2
This bedroom was occupied by Louis XIII in 1619 when he visited Françoise de Souvré, future governess to the king’s sons, Louis (the future Sun King) and his brother Philippe, duc d’Orléan. The late 17th century bed has a suspended canopy.
La Chambre du Maître-de-maison, Photo #3 & Photo #4
The tapestries and furniture in this room, most notably the cabinet with the sculpted doors, indicate the attraction for works of the Italian Renaissance by 16th century courtiers.
La Bibliothèque, Photo #5
In the library the chimney decoration is made of marble and painted cloth. Here, also on view, are engravings of the plans the marquis de Biencourt had for the grounds in the 19th century.
Azay-le-Rideau: Egilse Paroissial Saint Symphorien
“We were tempted to linger so long in the grounds that we had only a short time to spend in the interesting eleventh century church which adjoins the park and, like the château, belongs to the State. The façade of the church is richly decorated with quaint statuettes and carvings, and here also is a seigniorial chapel with inscriptions of the Biencourt family who owned the château of Azay-le-Rideau before it passed into the hands of the government.”
— Antiques Digest, 1911
So many churches in France are dedicated to obscure saints, the church at Azay-le-Rideau is one such example. St. Symphorian of Autun was beheaded, while still a young man, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. His mother, the Blessed Augusta, encouraged him in his faith that was the reason for his execution, 22.August.178. The 22nd of August is Our Saint’s feast day.
Although the village church, dedicated to Saint Symphorien, has been protected as un monument historique since 1908, it is unlikely that the government ever owned it. Partly Romanesque and partly Gothic, it stands near the château, but outside its grounds. Its design incorporates several architectural periods. The years of its construction include the ninth century, the second quarter of the 11th century; the first quarter of the16th century; the first quarter of the17th century. The church formerly belonged to the priory-parish whose other buildings, bought by the Marquis de Biencourt following the Revolution, were demolished to allow for the enlargement of the château’s grounds.
Its newest section dates from 1603; but the oldest part of the church, part of the ninth century façade, is incorporated into the present façade. High above the Roman-arched center door the central figure of Christ flanked by saints, including St-Symphorien, carved in the Carolingian style, can be seen; these small low-relief figures attract the most interest. The rest of the church is of a Romanesque style. The nave (see photo #3) was built in the 11th and 12th centuries on top of 10th century elements that are still visible today.
Within the church is a memorial to Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc, the Patroness of France (see photo #4). It was the future Charles VII, who as le Dauphin ordered this town burn to the ground, that Our Saint would convince to be crowned king and help defeat the occupying English. Charles first met Jeanne at Chinon, not far from Azay-le-Rideau.
There are some rather modern stained glass windows in the church. One shows the Blessed Virgin being crowned Queen of Heaven (see photo #5).
The church is open daily, 09.00 to 19.00.