Sainte Marie-Madeleine

Neuilly-en-Donjon, France


Sainte Marie-Madeleine was built in 1130, when Neuilly-en-Donjon was part of the diocese of Autun, which included much of what is now Burgundy. Comprised of a single nave with an austere interior, the church is most significant for its stone reliefs and the ornamentation of its exterior. The portal and tympanum are of particular art-historical importance. The iconography and subject matter of the Neuilly stone carvings have been studied for over 100 years, generating countless academic papers and articles. In the early twentieth century, the roof was replaced. The additional weight of the structure caused vertical cracks in the main façade and nave walls. Over time, the walls began to deteriorate as water penetrated the stone. The natural freeze-thaw cycle exacerbated the situation and enlarged the structural cracks. As a result, the main façade began to separate from the nave sidewalls.

How We Helped

In 2000, WMF secured support from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to begin research on the conservation needs of Sainte Marie-Madeleine Church. Through subsequent Robert W. Wilson Challenge funding in 2003, the proposed emergency restoration work began. The roof that had been added to the church during the early twentieth century was cleaned and modified to lessen its weight on the structure. Wooden roof beams were consolidated, the stone walls were repaired, and the main façade was stabilized with stainless steel rods and traditional lime mortar. The restoration efforts conserved the original Romanesque details of the church, including the highly significant exterior stone ornaments. WMF’s involvement at Sainte Marie-Madeleine not only saved the important monument, but also brought attention to the larger issue of ten Romanesque churches of the Auvergene region in need of restoration efforts.

Why It Matters

Scholars have long been interested in the iconography of the Sainte Marie-Madeleine tympanum. Most agree that although the scenes show clear influence from other religious sculpture in the region, the juxtaposition of the images at Neuilly-en-Donjon is unique. The church did not undergo many renovations over the centuries and survives as an outstanding example of rural medieval church architecture.

Last updated: June 2018.

Join us in safeguarding significant places.