Abbatiale Saint Michel de Nantua

The Abbey church of St Michael at Nantua

An abbey born of a legend (that of the Bishop St. Amandus being saved by a lightning bolt…). The Abbey Church of St. Michael still stands, a subtle blend of Romanesque and Clunisian styles that houses 2 treasures: a unique picture by the painter Eugène Delacroix and a listed organ of exceptional musicality.

A subtle combination of Romanesque style and a Clunisian site

Forming one of the most imposing buildings in the department of Ain, the Abbey Church of St. Michael has made the town of Nantua famous. Consisting of a church, a cloister and annexes, this sumptuous abbey church forms an iconic religious architectural complex.
  • abbatiale_saintmichel_nantua_5
  • Origin: 11th century
  • Style : Romanesque with touches of Gothic
  • Length: 54 m
  • Width: 17 m
  • Construction : slightly schistous limestone building from the region’s quarries
  • Classification: Monument Historique in 1907

Consecrated at the end of the 11th century under the patronage of St. Peter and St. Paul by Hugues de Semur, Abbot of Cluny and Nantua, the Abbey of Nantua was built on an old Benedictine abbey that could be said to have been Cluny’s older sister, and was the resting place of Charles the Bald before his burial in Saint-Denis. It was made a listed building under the Monuments Historiques scheme in 1907.

The pediment, despite damage suffered during the Revolution, remains an example of Romanesque splendour. It stands in contrast to the Clunisian style with its sober yet elegant capitals worthy of Cistercian architecture.

A unique picture by the painter Eugène Delacroix

  • Visite Abbatiale Saint Michel
    Visite Abbatiale Saint Michel
  • Visite Abbatiale Saint Michel de Nantua
    Visite Abbatiale Saint Michel de Nantua

It houses the Renaissance Chapel of St. Anne with its superb suspended ribbed vault, which is an astounding technical feat, and the masterpiece by Eugène Delacroix: the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (this artist painted the world-famous “Liberty Leading the People”). It offers superb external views from the old cloister.

did you know ?

Listed in 1837 and added to the Monuments Historiques inventory in 1927, the Abbey Church of St. Michael is a monument that has kept all of its authenticity!

An organ of exceptional musicality

  • Intérieur Abbatiale Saint Michel
    Intérieur Abbatiale Saint Michel

Nantua possesses this very fine organ due to a curious quirk of history. It was built in the Vosges by the organ-maker Nicolas-Antoine Lété (1793-1872).

The Debelay brothers originally acquired this organ, as they were both curates of the parish. The older brother, Jean-Marie-Mathias, made Bishop of Troyes, set out to find an organ after his brother Denys asked for one in order to add to the splendour of his church.

Some saw this intended organ as a very expensive item, weighing 15 tonnes, which would also block light coming through the rose window. In fact, it would take 27 years to pay for the organ in full, after many twists and turns and negotiations, like selling land or bonds, as well as the parish making some small savings.

Yet in 1847, the “Catholards” (as the inhabitants of Nantua are known) saw some curious carts come to town, drawn by oxen and containing 2,883 pipes and the complex mechanism to make them produce sound!

The organ was installed in a church restored after the damage of the French Revolution and a big fire in 1804. The inauguration took place at the midnight mass of 1847.

This beautiful instrument, listed as a Monument Historique in 1976, is a reminder of the transition period between Classical and Romantic. It offers a variety of 42 stops spread across three keyboards, and a pedal board.


To find a way

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