Situated in one of the most pleasant regions of France, Saulieu is a small town around 45 miles W. of Dijon. Its patron saint, who brought Christianity to the region, and was martyred here (c. 177 AD) was from Smyrna in Asia Minor. The building has known its vicissitudes, with a Saracen raid destroying an earlier building. A building consecrated in 1119 was badly damaged in 1360, when English soldiers in the Hundred Years’ War destroyed all except the nave. Half a century ago, Zodiaque magazine described Saulieu church as “église martyre”.
The surviving nave is quite remarkable, with its vigorously carved capitals to the Romanesque arcades. They feature a mixture of Biblical subjects and animals (not forgetting two owls) and are roughly contemporary with those at Autun (ND Jan 2013), dating from the first half of the 12th c. The Scriptural subjects are a varied and compelling combination, with the Old Testament scene of Balaam and his ass. Subjects from the Gospels include the Flight into Egypt, less emotive than that at Autun (ND Jan. 2013); the Temptation of Christ, with the Devil offering a stone; the suicide of Judas, in which the Devil pulls on a rope to which the moneybag is attached; and Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection. The building has many other interesting features, like the sarcophagus of S. Andoche under the altar, and a variety of mediaeval statues, including two of S. Roch, but it is the Romanesque for which you remember Saulieu.
– Georges Barbier, Martyre de Saulieu, Zodiaque magazine, Numero 24, 1955.
– Jean Baudry et al., Bourgogne Romane, Zodiaque (various editions).