Patrimoine permission



St Hilaire


Association for the preservation of the heritage of Alligny
Mairie - 58230 Alligny-en-Morvan

This notice was produced by the society for the preservation of the local cultural
heritage of Alligny in July 1998

- Acknowledgments :

- Le Morvand, Tome deuxième (J.F.BAUDIAU, 1866).
- Monographie d'Alligny-en-Morvan (J. BRUNEAU, 1905).
- Dans l'ombre du Morvan (L. CHARREAULT, 1933).
- La cathédrale de Nevers et les églises gothiques du Nivernais (M. ANFRAY, 1967).
- Trésors cachés des églises de la Nièvre (LA CAMOSINE, 1990).
- Notes d'André VAN DEN MEERSSCHAUT, Curé (1980).
-Translation into English by courtesy of Michel AILHAUD, teacher of English at the
Lycée Bonaparte - AUTUN 1999.
-English proof reading by H.G. & S.M. Howitt, Reglois.


Prior to 1460, the church was situated on the other bank of the river Ternin at the bottom of the Coombe de La Palue, near the present hamlet of Petit Bazolles. This church is mentioned in a written approval for a foundation by Pierre d'OSTUN in 1380. Nothing remains of this building today.

According to tradition, the present church was built on the site of the former chapel of the castle, of which only the north chapel and the bell tower remain (XIIth century). Considering its size, the tower could have been used for defensive purposes.

On the 7th February 1353, Henri d'Aligny willed the foundation of a seigniorial chapel, of which no trace can been found.

(Under Pope Pious II. End of Charles VIIth's reign and beginning of that of Louis XIth). Jean the First of Fontette decided on the transfer of the church nearer to his chateau (the Coombe de La Palue was then abandoned in favour of the present location). The choir and the North, Seigniorial, Chapel were restored in gothic style.

Installation of the bell called "Marie Jeanne". Jean de Fontette was then Squire of Alligny.

Burial of Etienne d'Aligny and of Vivande de Brouillard.

Burial of the heart of Lady Philippe de Montessus, wife of Pierre d'Aligny, and of Claude (son of Pierre Quarré, comte d'Alligny).

Restoration of the sacristy and of the south chapel.

Burial of Charles de Choiseul.

Removal of the two smallest of the three bells. During the French Revolution, thenorth chapel (seigniorial chapel) was used as a saltpetre works and storage room.

Pen drawing Alligny church

On the initiative of the Parish Priest Pillien, the Roman style nave was destroyed and the present nave with aisles was constructed.

Demolition of the Roman style west gate, which is thought to have been taken from the church of La Palue and the extension of the nave by 3,33 m (approx. 11 ft).

1856 and 1864
Installation and baptism of two bells replacing those removed in 1793.

Restoration of the north Chapel.

Installation of the stained-glass windows which remained until the restoration of 1960-1980..

Installation of an electrical bell ringing system.

Restoration of the interior of the church on the initiative of the church Priest André VAN DEN MEERSSCHAUT.


The largest one, "MARIE JEANNE" bears the date of 1518 and the Arms of Jean II de FONTETTE, with an inscription in gothic letters which says :



It weighs over 750 kilos (1650 lbs.), is 0,83 m (2 ft. 19 in.) high and 1,06m (3 ft. 6 in) wide at the base. It is just under 0.12m (5 in.) thick.

On the 2nd April 1856, the middle size bell, named "MARIE CESARINE", was baptized by the Priest Pillien. Cast in Alligny, it weighs 486 kg (1069 lbs.).

Eight years later, the set of bells was completed by a 408 kg (898 lbs.) bell which was baptized and named "MARIE LOUISE" on the 11th of October 1864.

Church tower


Did the roman style bell tower, with twin openings, come from the former church in the Coombe de La Palue, or was it on the present location at the time of the 1460 transfer? No evidence of this has been found, and therefore, we have no definite answer.

The south wall still shows the mark of a former door, the gothic frame, discovered during the last restoration, now houses the north side entrance.

In the chevet there is a window in which the figures cannot be distinguished. This window was not taken out during the last restoration (1912/1925) but was walled up from the inside.

Near the road on the north side of the church is the "stone of the dead". This stone used to lie facing the church, beneath an elm (a tree of justice), exactly where the war memorial stands today

RESTORATION (1960/1980)

To improve the functionality of the church, the interior has been considerably modified during this restoration. The work was carried out on the initiative of André VAN DEN MEERSSCHAUT, the parish Priest of Alligny en Morvan from 1957 to 1980.

This work was commenced by scouts who scraped the stones, followed by the work of local artists and craftsmen. This work went on until 1980.

The choir was closed and transformed into a chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, therefore making the church, according to the priest restorer himself, "not too spacious to be heated properly.....". More than a century previously, during the major works of 1837 to 1853 the opposite had been achieved as the Priest Pillien complained about his church being too small. At that time, Alligny had 2500 inhabitants compared to today's figure of 680.

This new layout of the church included the restoration of the following:
- the exposure of the stone walls and pillars,
- the installation of new stained-glass windows, the work of Flemish master glazier Armand BLONDEEL.
- various wood and iron work.
- works in copper by Marc HENARD, the sculptor from Saint Leger Vauban. The tympanum above the door separating the sanctuary from the chapel of the "Blessed Sacrament" (the former choir) is particularly interesting.



This is also called the Chapel of Saint Joseph (statue), this together with the bell tower is the most ancient part of the building dating from the XIIth century, however it was modified in the XVth century.

This chapel used to be the former seigniorial chapel and together with the bell tower might have existed before the church was transferred to the present site in 1460, on the orders of Jean de FONTETTE.

During the French revolution, the north Chapel was badly treated being used for saltpetre storage. It was abandoned and during it's restoration in 1912 the remains of several unidentified people were exhumed. The funeral slab was removed and installed on the ground floor of the Saint Hilaire Chapel.

Plan of church


This window portrays the Saint emaciated by her sickness: her rough homespun habit has become too large for her.

In order to be able to make her good deeds pour like a rain of roses, she will have to pick them among the thorns of her terrestrial life, as she once wrote to her sister Mary. #4


Reliquary statue of Saint Hilaire, patron of the parish, is made of waxed fruit tree wood. The bench on which the statue of the Saint sits used to contain the relics in a rectangular hollow, sealed by a glass or thin plank fixed by four wooden dowels.

This type of seated figure is common in the XIVth century but this position, one of dignity, is usually reserved for the Virgin, Christ or Saint Pierre. There is no doubt that as Patron of the parish, Saint Hilaire had the right to this honour.

This statue probably comes from the original church in the Coombe de La Palue and the renaisance altar from the chapel in the Alligny.chateau.

At floor level, a funeral slab portrays a woman whose features are covered with a veil, and whose feet rest on two greyhounds. A coat of arms depicts an eagle with it's wings spread and a vase containing lilies. Around this in gothic lettering is the following:



This tombstone was retrieved from the north, segniorial chapel during the 1912 restoration. Beneath this slab lie the remains of the dead who were found during these works. #5


This separated from the nave by a grill of wrought iron, made by Gilbert CAYZAC, a craftsman of Alligny, following an abstract design of Marc HENARDS's. Two large sea shells are used as holy water basins.

The layout of the lower stained glass window dates from the last restoration and not from 1933, parts of the former windows were re-used, in particular those that included the dates and names of donors. The North Chapel window depicts the creation of the world where the spirit hovers over the waters to fertilise them making order out of chaos in an explosion of light, which is the life of man. The south Chapel window shows the spirit giving back that transfigured life to those that are plunged into the baptismal waters: it is the purifying fire of love. #6


The statue in this chapel is said to have been blessed by the Holy church Priest of ARS before being offered as an ex-voto to the church of Alligny. It portrays a saint who cannot be clearly identified but who is thought to be Saint Christine since this Saint is always portrayed with one arrow, if not, pierced by it.

Saint Christine was born in the IIIrd century in Tuscany. She was converted to Christianity and broke pagan gold and silver idols into pieces which she then distributed to the poor. As punishment, her own father who was a judge, had her sentenced to be drowned in the Bolene lake, a grindstone fastened to her neck. She escaped only to be put to death with arrows, an execution ordered by her father's successor, judge Julien (extract from "The Golden Legend" by J VORAGINE XIIIth century).

St Bernadette


This window portrays the vision of Bernadette de Lourdes, which occurred on the 25th February 1858. The human shaped white patch of light stands for the visiting Lady. Under a blue sky, green bushes hide the cave and the blue colour at the bottom represents the river Gave.

The "Lady" asked Bernadette to go and drink from the spring; but the water there was a reddish mud. Reluctantly, she managed to drink it at the fourth attempt, she then found herself covered with mud and disconcerted. She was thought to have become insane. Beyond this vision, lies the symbol of faith. #8


The niche is where the south gate used to be.

The stele inside the niche is the lid of a sarcophagus dug up during the restoration works, and on which a knight's sword has been sculpted. This might have been the tomb of the first squire of Alligny. #9


This is now the baptismal chapel. The window of which is a reminder of the purifying fire of divine love which enlightens and transfigures.

To limit the baptismal area, there is a wrought iron bannister of which the central motif is a fish; the top iron rail ends by circling the grindstone of an oil mill. This work was made by local craftsman Gilbert CAYZAC following a design by the priest restorer.


The grindstone symbolizes the sacred baptism of the Christians by the Holy oils, while the fish stands for the first Christian's symbol.

The baptismal font is thought to be from the Merovingian era. It's lid on which the symbol of the fish is repeated dates back to the last restoration.

A double door, of solid oak, made by Gilbert MARIE (1) following a design by Marc HENARD opens onto the great southern stairs with its iron gate, built by Jean Claude MALIVERT , a craftsmen from Alligny en Morvan.

On either side of the door, two antique wooden cupboards stand, the one with glass panes houses the church treasure (XVIIIth and XIXth century) and it is said to have belonged to the notorious French writer and Academy member René BAZIN #10


A glazed door with it's wrought iron handle, also in the shape of a fish, opens into the gothic style choir, which became the chapel of the "Blessed Sacrament" (1461/1464).

The symbol of the fish is repeated in the windows and on the hammered copper tabernacle, by Marc HENARD.

Pieces of old slabs from the former high altar of the church were used to support the pink granite mansa (or altar top) of the present altar. #11


The Virgin of Pity, or Pieta, in polychrome wood, dated as late XVth century or early XVIth was classified as a historic monument on the 21st March 1957. Height : 52cm (22.5 in.)

The Holy Virgin is dressed in a blue mantle which covers her head with a hood, and in a wimple (a piece of cloth surrounding her face). Her dress is red, with green on the edges. With her head slightly inclined and her face serene, she supports the Christ's head with her right arm and her left hand holds Christ's right arm to prevent him from falling.

The Christ is portrayed crowned with a wreath of thorns, his hair is brown and his right side bleeds. His head thrown back, but he does not seem dead as his folded right leg shows tensed muscles. His hands lay flat one on the other. His face shows no tension, his features are fine and regular. He seems at peace and shows no sign of suffering.

In German gothic art during the Middle Ages, in painting and sculpture, the Virgin was usually portrayed sitting, dressed in a large mantle, with the Christ's body lying on her lap, his head was thrown backwards, his body stiff. These were tragic figures. But during the XVth and the XVIth century a new tendency appears in France, opposed to the tragic expression of the German works, the Pietas became more relaxed and more serene. In the XVIth century, artists clearly set out to produce far more details in both garments and anatomy.

In this respect, the Virgin of Pity of Alligny en Morvan, through her quiet resignation, typically belongs to the period of the late XVth early XVIth century, although the position of the Christ's head and the mantle and the wimple still bear the mark of the XVth century style. So, this sculpture is more than likely the work of a local artist who made the structural innovations of the period, but followed tradition as far as the garments were concerned.

Virgin of Pity


In the centre of the transept under the church tower is a vault of unrendered stones that harbours the liturgie furniture made of both wood and iron, built by Gilbert MARIE (local craftsman), BUISSON (a craftsman in Saulieu) and Rinie WILLEMEN (a Dutch artist) following the designs of the Belgian architect Hugo SERVAES.

The main altar, the masterpiece of this furniture was the final and posthumous gift from the priest restorer's mother.

The Easter candlestick by Marc HENARD is in the shape a column of fire.

A double door, made of solid oak, by Gilbert MARIE follows a design by Marc HENARD separates the sanctuary from the chapel of the "Blessed Sacrament" (choir of the church). #13


This hammered and oxidized copper tympanum is Marc HENARD's masterpiece, it was donated by Father VAN DEN MEERSSCHAUT, the church Priest for 23 years, as a final token of his religious teaching in the Morvan. Here are his comments on the tympanum :

The biblical characters are gradually more distinguishable when you look from the edge to the centre of the work and seem to be attracted one after the other by the central character of Christ in his glory (the Pantokrâtor of the Greeks).

His body is immersed in the divine light symbolized by an elliptical halo (versica piscis), with sharp angles at each end of the great axis. The top part of the halo which surrounds the Christ's head penetrates the heart of the divinity. On the left, the Creator's hand of the Father points to Jesus as "his beloved son".

The Holy Spirit, portrayed as a dove, is slightly apart so as to indicate that "it flies where it pleases".

On the left, the Old Testament symbolizes the world in it's quest for God, and in which "the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" insidiously continues to offer its fruit. This world, represented by Adam and Eve, Abraham and John the Baptist, and which designate Christ as the Lamb of God, strives to walk in the path of God, in spite of its countless strayings and wanderings.

On the right, the New Testament represents the world redeemed by Christ's blood, in the middle of which the genuine "Tree of Life" (the cross) grows for the salvation of nations. This world is represented by Joseph and Mary, John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalen whose halo is attached to Christ's. This world humbly strives to follow in the footsteps of God.

The central character, Christ's himself stands here for the unifying link between those two worlds which would otherwise not be kept separate.

The lower end of the halo, where the Christ's feet are, sinks into the Earth, into the heart of darkness, which explains the vanishing light in this area.

At the bottom of the tympanum, a seven-head dragon, the symbol of Evil is defeated by Christ who uses it as a "ladder for his feet". Four of the monster's heads stick out of the tympanum to return some light to it, for darkness itself is turned into light when the sinner, realizing that darkness cannot achieve anything good, eventually accepts to be converted to the Faith. Still, the true light can only come from the Christ at the centre.

Neither Moses, who represents law (The commandments - Old Testament) nor Peter (who represents the Law of The Church - New Testament) have been portrayed, and this absence was on purpose. Thus, all the good-willed men who are not necessarily at ease under constricted rule still gather around Christ of their own accord.

MARC HENARD (1919 - 1992)

Who was Marc HENARD, the designer of most of the works during the last restoration ?

First, his meeting with a monk interested in Roman art avant-garde literature, led him to the Benedictine monastery of La Pierre Qui Vire. There, in 1949 he built an altar to order. Captivated by the Morvan, he found there all the materials a sculptor requires readily available: stone and wood. Flourishing as it was at that time, the abbey undertook work lasting several years and the Father superior engaged Marc HENARD to carry it out. He then moved into the nearest village, Saint Léger Vauban with his young wife and two daughters.

He had to wear an orthopedic shoe as the result of a hand grenade exploding inside the tank he was in, in 1940. He was eloquent, good-humoured, given to teasing, witty and passionate. Before his arrival, he had lived in the community founded by the cubist painter Albert GLEIZES.

He was an adept and supported direct carving, he was opposed to mould casting of bronze and other alloys. He was often accused of being intolerant. "Certainly not", he would reply; simply uncompromising. And so, he would apply his conception of a course and barbaric, but serene art form which belongs to the universal tradition of primitive arts. Never did he try to get any recognition or publicity for his works, his relationship with the artistic milieu being strictly limited to his work necessities.

After his wife had died from leukaemia at the age of 38, he became like a solitary wolf, like a Morvan wild boar. From the uncompromising critic of Society, he was turned into a cynical rebel. His bitterness changed for the worse into constant critisism. To him, art critics are nothing but "merdaillons" (obscene French colloquialism). In his view, museum keepers are mere "flunkies", and inspectors of historic monuments were ignoramuses and "all stuffed with their own culture". His growing anger and the rudeness of his statements gradually drove all but a handful of his friends away.

But even after his death in 1992 the artist remains amazingly alive to those who had met him and through the vision of his art in our time.

His artistry in architecture, sculpture, painting, glasswork and enamel has left us a heritage of achievement not only in Burgundy: - at the Abbey of La Pierre Qui Vire, where the porch is visible from outside, - at the Macon cultural Centre, - in the churches of various villages (Saint Léger Vauban and of course Alligny en Morvan); - but also far beyond the limits of this province : Nothern France, and the Moselle, the Isère, the Lot departments, and abroad, in Switzerland, Germany...

(From "Marc HENARD sculpteur Bourguignon" by Georges GERARD, 1995, by authorization of writer).

The house where Marc Hénard had his workshop has now been turned into the "Maison Vauban", "The Ecomuseum" of Morvan.


At the very border of the Côte d'Or in the far east of the Nièrve on the eastern slopes of the Morvan mountains lies the commune of Alligny-en-Morvan which extends to 4885 hectares (12071 acres), which includes 2100 hectares of forest and 302 hectares of fallow land.

Both banks of the Ternin valley are crowned with gently sloping wooded hills which culminate at 681m (2234 ft) at the place locally known as "le Grand Arbre".

Under the old regime (prior to the French Revolution 1789) Alligny was the seat of an imminent squirearchy which dated back in it's origin to feudal times. Before 1789, the parish of Alligny was mainly dependent on the Province of Burgundy. The local language which is still spoken bears the mark of this influence as it is distinctly different from those in other communes of the Nivernais Province.

Today the commune, which totals barely 898 inhabitants, compared with 2700 in 1865 and 2065 in 1891, is still torn between it's administrative dependence on the Nièrve and the commercial enticement that the Saône et Loire and the Côte d'Or exert upon it.

The economic activity of the commune is not limited to just farming, which includes the production of Christmas trees, and the village commerce, grocer's, chemist's, wine cellars, cafe, hotels and restaurants including a village inn, but also includes a number of village craftsmen covering various traditional fields, such as weaving, hat making, furniture restoration, fish breeding and believe it or not a whip maker!


Association déclarée le 20 janvier 1998, régie par la loi du 1er juillet 1901.

Siège social : Mairie d'Alligny-en-Morvan

But de l'association:

La recherche, la connaissance, la mise en valeur et la protection du patrimoine d'Alligny-en-Morvan.

Cotisation annuelle : 50 francs comprenant la fourniture du bulletin de l'association.


Martine CHALANDRE(Présidente),Le Defend(03 86 76 14 80)
Pierre MATHE(Vice président),Fétigny(03 86 17 12 12)
(03 86 76 18 22)
Marie-Claude MORVAN(Secrétaire),Pensières(03 86 76 10 76)
André René GAUMONT(trésorier),Fétigny(03 86 76 13 52)
Aimée PLAUCHIER(Secrétaire adjointe),Mont(03 86 76 11 14)

Black and white village

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