(active 7th century in Jouarre)

Interor view

7th century
Benedictine Abbey, Jouarre (Seine-et-Marne)

Benedictine abbey in Seine-et-Marne, France, is famous for its crypt of St Paul, one of the most important surviving monuments of the Merovingian period.

The double monastery of Notre-Dame at Jouarre was founded c. 630 by Ado, ex-treasurer of King Dagobert I (reg 623–39). Soon after the foundation three churches were built. Notre-Dame, the most important, was built for the nuns, whose first abbess was Ado's cousin Theodochilde (d after 662). Her brother Agilbert became first abbot of the monks, who occupied Saint-Pierre until the 8th century, when they were replaced by canons. Saint-Paul-et-Saint-Martin was a funerary church serving both communities. All three churches were subjected to vast transformations over the centuries. Notre-Dame was rebuilt in the Romanesque period and again in the 17th century; only its medieval tower-porch survived the demolition of 1792, and it was incorporated into a new church built in 1837. Saint-Pierre, which became the parish church after the Middle Ages, now dates from the 15th and 16th centuries. The funerary church was situated in a cemetery, which extended over its foundations after the building was burnt down in the 15th century.

The crypt of Saint-Paul, built to house the tombs of the founders, is the oldest part of the monastery to survive. It was once thought to have been constructed against the chevet of Saint-Paul-et-Saint-Martin as an addition, but excavations begun in 1985 have demonstrated that it formed the crypt of the original church. The exterior is much altered, but in 1978–79 the original Merovingian masonry of the east wall, consisting of regular petit appareil laid with yellow mortar, was uncovered, and traces of three original buttresses were found underneath those added in the 17th century.

The interior has groin vaults carried by six reused Roman marble columns surmounted by 7th-century capitals. While the vaults probably retain their original form, their actual date is controversial. The capitals were probably carved in the Pyrenees, which at that time exported marble capitals throughout Gaul. They are based on Classical Corinthian or Composite types, and the variety in design and height suggests that they did not originally form a homogeneous ensemble.

In the 9th or 10th century the church was extended to the south, and the adjoining crypt of Saint-Ebregesild constructed; finally, in the 11th century, this crypt was given a western extension. Both crypts were heavily restored in the 17th and 19th centuries.

The crypt of St Paul contains tombs of the first abbesses and abbots.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.