On the Carpet: the Tapestries of Montpezat-de-Quercy

Montpezat - Collégiale de Saint-Martin
Collégiale Saint-Martin in Montpezat

I’m pleased to say that I have done one of the five items I listed in my January post of things to do in 2018. It’s now getting a bit late for the truffle market at Lalbenque, but that will resume in the late autumn, so all is not lost. Instead, we drove down to Montpezat-de-Quercy yesterday to see the restored tapestries in the Collégiale Saint-Martin and they are certainly worth the visit.

Montpezat is only about 30 km from us, but the countryside and the architecture are quite different. The landscape is more gently rolling and the climate and soil are suited to fruit growing. The trees were already in full blossom yesterday and we enjoyed warm sunshine – what a treat after a gloomy winter! The houses are built of white Quercy stone with Roman tiles. Many have colombage, or half-timbering.

Montpezat - ruelle with colombage
Medieval street

We’ve been to Montpezat before, some years ago, but strangely neither of us had much recollection of it. The village is built on a hilltop with terrific views to the south and east and was once fortified. Only one of the five gates remains and an 11th-century château was demolished during the Revolution.

The 14th century appears to have been Montpezat’s nadir, when it was pillaged by the English during the Hundred Years War and ravaged by the Black Death between 1348 and 1361. Montpezat also suffered in World War II, when Jews were deported from the village and the Das Reich division burnt a number of farms in the area during their destructive march northwards in June 1944.

Montpezat - an impasse
Impasse in Montpezat

The village is riddled with narrow alleys and impasses, crammed full of quaint medieval buildings. It’s pleasant just to wander about and enjoy the views from the promenades. The main square, la Place de la Libération is dominated by an enormous Mairie and surrounded by pillared arcades, the former site of shops and taverns. A few shops remain but, like many such places, a number are empty. Montpezat also has a vast former Ursuline convent, established in the 17th century. The nuns were dispersed to other convents in 1921 and the building is now the school and Médiathèque.

Montpezat - main square arcades
Place de la Libération – arcades
Montpezat - main square with colombage
Place de la Libération – pillars and colombage
Montpezat - main square
Place de la Libération

Our main reason for being there was to see the tapestries. The Collégiale was founded by Cardinal Pierre Dés Prés, himself a son of Montpezat, and constructed between 1337 and 1352. Dés Prés served four of the Avignon popes, but unfortunately he didn’t escape the plague which devastated Avignon in 1361. He is buried in the Collégiale.

Montpezat - collégiale interior
Collégiale interior
Montpezat - maison des chanoines
Maison des Chanoines (canons) behind the Collégiale – one of the best preserved in the region

A later representative of the Dés Prés family, Jean IV, gave a series of tapestries relating the life of St Martin to the Collégiale at some point between 1517, when he became Bishop of Montauban, and his death in 1539. The tapestries are of Flemish origin, probably from Tournai, but it’s not clear exactly where they were made or by whom. They consist of 15 tableaux in 5 separate panels, which are hung around the choir end of the Collégiale.

Montpezat - tapestry St Martin shares cloak
One of the most famous legends – St Martin shares his cloak with a beggar

The tapestries have been cleaned and restored several times, most recently in 2016, and the colours glow like new. You push various buttons to turn on the lights and open the curtains, but they were already open when we arrived. We had just finished looking at the tapestries, when the curtains closed automatically. It was slightly creepy and unfortunately reminiscent of a crematorium.

Montpezat - tapestry Virgin Mary
The Virgin Mary visits St Martin

The 4th-century St Martin of Tours is one of the most familiar and popular saints in France, of which he is the patron saint. Scores of villages bear his name. There are also many legends and stories associated with him and he was adopted by successive royal houses of France.

Montpezat - St Martin bishop
St Martin’s investiture
Montpezat - tapestry trees fall on brigands
Brigands are crushed by falling trees
Montpezat - devil casts down St Martin
A devil casts down St Martin

If you’re in the area, Montpezat is worth a detour and the tapestries are a must-see while you’re there. Find out more on the Office de Tourisme website.

Montpezat - window
Carved stone window surround
Montpezat - old pump
A strange contraption, which I presume is an old pump
Montpezat - street name
Imaginatively named street

You might also like:

Puylaroque: Tranquil Village with a Turbulent History
5 Things to do in SW France in 2018
L’Abbaye de Beaulieu – A Hidden Gem

Copyright © 2018 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

8 comments

    • They have been so well restored that they almost look too modern! However, the colours are glowing and it’s lovely to see how they must have looked when they were first woven 400 years ago. We must have seen them before, but have little recollection of it. Yes, I can recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in that direction.

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  1. I was interested in montpezat’s tapestries when you wrote about them in January, now I’m intrigued by the whole town. Lots of photo opportunities!
    Our village church is dedicated to St Martin with a circular window showing his image above the main door.
    It has moved up my list. 🙂 Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad we got to see them at last, even if the automatic curtains are rather unnerving! The town is worth just wandering around, since it has some very picturesque hidden corners.

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    • Certainly worth a visit. The tapestries have been beautifully restored. It’s a pleasant village, too. We have never eaten there, but I gather there are several decent restaurants.

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