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(canton of Octeville, Manche)

Church of Saint-Martin

    Martinvast, church of Notre Dame
Octeville, church of St Martin
Tollevast, church of St Martin.
These three rural churches of northern Cotentin constitute a small family of highly individual Romanesque parish buildings.

Despite additions which have profoundly affected Octeville and Martinvast, their family relationship stems from their proximity to one another, the influence of Lessay, and the patronage of the Cherbourg abbey of Notre-Dame du Vœu. Their layout combines a rectangular nave, covered by a timber-framed roof, and a long narrow choir of two bays extended by a semi-circular apse. The walls are built of small irregular courses of stonework. Narrow openings distribute the light parsimoniously.

The elevation is also simple: the semi-circular apse is punctuated by flat buttresses (in Tollevast), engaged columns (in Octeville), or both superimposed (at Martinvast), and is decorated by a row of corbels carved with grotesque figures and barbarian heads. The square bay of the choir subtly dominates the east end with a gable. A short central tower (modified at Octeville and Martinvast) adds a third level.

This simple composition, characteristic of rural churches, is accompanied by a balance inherited from the Romanesque abbey churches, with its distribution of the components on several levels (which have been compromised by later additions at Martinvast and Octeville), and its sense of proportion.

The influence of the abbeys of Vœu and Lessay explains the care lavished on the vaulting in the choir. The vaulting of the two bays, reinforced by heavy ribs provided with wide projecting half-round moulding on a thick strip.

At Tollevast (2nd quarter of the 12th century) the ribs rest on voluminous bases decorated with monstrous figures (a clumsy copy of those in the nave of St Etienne in Caen) and the arches with a quadrangular cross-section occupy a transitional position between the rounded arch which is slightly greater than a semi-circle and the arch which is a perfect semi-circle (as at Bernay). But at Martinvast and Octeville (3rd quarter of the 12th century), while the vaults of the tower bay are still supported on identical supports, those of the choir bay are supported on small columns; the arches have double roll mouldings and are decorated with fret carving and zigzag.
These vaults with these early ribs, borrowed from Lessay, constitute the first examples of this new type of roofing applied to small Romanesque buildings (the original solution also adopted in a number of other rural churches in the Cotentin region: Saint-Germain-sur-Ay, Chef-du-Pont, Brévands, and Saint-Pierre-de-Semilly).
The Romanesque decoration is also of great interest. At Tollevast particular care was taken with the vault bases. One is decorated with a holy person holding in his hand a naked man entwined by serpents. The others are decorated with bearded and grotesque heads, in high relief, sometimes combined with monstrous animals.
In Martinvast and Octeville, however, it is the capitals of the choir bays which exhibit the main decorative repertoire: in the first, arabesques of foliage, acanthuses and fighting animals; in the second, interlace patterns, masks and birds. The oriental bestiary here is mixed with clumsy adaptations of antique capitals and the popular taste for barbarian figures.

Bernard Beck


- Musset, Lucien. " Eglise Notre-Dame de Martinvast " et " Eglise Saint-Martin de Tollevast ", in Congrès Archéologique de France, Cotentin et Avranchin, 1966, Société Française d'Archéologie, 1966