You’ve probably just come from Saint Savin-sur-Gartempe (ND August 2010), so the contrast of exteriors is striking. Just across the road from a Lanterne des Morts (ND November 2019), this church has a modest 11th c. nave, with simple W doorway and a Gothic choir with flat chevet, a small belfry topped by a pyramidal fleche. On the S side of the choir is a seigneurial chapel, dedicated to Saint Catherine and founded on November 13th 1421 by Renard de Montléon, seigneur of Boismorand, who died the following year. Both nave and chapel have original mediaeval wallpaintings, the former dating from the 12th – 14th c. with those in the chapel having more coherent themes as well as being in a better state of preservation. They are believed to have been commissioned c. 1479-90 by Jean de Moussy (d. 1510), a later seigneur of Boismorand, and are grouped by three themes: the Infancy of Christ; Christ’s Passion; and the Last Judgment.
Among the striking scenes are the Annunciation where our Lady kneels at a prayer desk, half-turning to Gabriel, who holds a long scroll, whose inscription is sadly no longer visible. In contrast, the scroll born by the angel appearing to the shepherds says ‘Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum’ (I bring you tidings of great joy). The shepherds are dressed for winter and play musical instruments – on the left a drum, on the right a trumpet or hautbois, with the shepherd in the middle playing bagpipes (cornemuse or nowadays cabrette in French) – they are still played in the Auvergne.
The Nativity, with Mary and Joseph tending the Infant Jesus, is shown conventionally, with animals looking on; the figure of the Holy Child is surrounded by rays. In the Adoration scene, the Magi are guided by a star, pointed out by the second of them. The Magi are recognisably different – one bald and bareheaded; a second wearing a turban; and the third, Balthasar is crowned and as usual recognisable by his black skin.
Three infants are shown being slaughtered in the scene of the bloody massacre of the Holy Innocents. Herod is shown seated on his throne, holding a sceptre topped by a fleur-de-lys; one of the children is depicted still held by his mother.
Among the Passion scenes, a seated and blindfolded Jesus is tormented by three soldiers then bound to a post and beaten by two men. He appears before Pilate, represented seated and dressed in a long magistrate’s robe, while a servant pours water over his hands. In the Via Crucis, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus bear the Cross, followed by the two naked thieves (who are depicted on a significantly smaller scale than the other figures) followed by Our Lady and the other holy women.
The Last Judgment shows Christ seated on His throne, displaying His wounded hands and struck by the Sword of the Holy Spirit and by rays; He is flanked by Our Lady and Saint John the Apostle, both kneeling, with other saints behind. Below them an angel with a trumpet awakens the dead from their tombs.
A non-Scriptural subject is the Three Living and the Three Dead (see ND November 2018).