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Pont de Vie Church

pontdevie500.jpg The church of St. Denis, situated at the summit of a hill dominating the Vie Valley, has the distinction of being located on the Pilgrims’ Way, a route used since the Middle Ages by all pilgrims heading East on their way to Mont St. Michel. The River Vie had only one viable fording place, namely « Pontem Viam », or « the bridge on the way », which gave its name to the village of Pont de Vie.

The church’s strategic position gave rise to its use since ancient times as a place of worship and lends it historic significance, with the building having been modified and amended over the years.

Archeological studies show its occupation and use as a burial ground going back to the 7th century, when a cemetery was established around the church dedicated to St Denis the Evangelist. In his commentary on Vimoutiers, Abbott Gatry refers to the discovery of several monolithic sarcophagae dating from the Merovingien period (5th to 8th centuries) in the cemetery at Pont de Vie.

The worship of the dead and of God as Saviour arose mainly at the end of the 7th century and were developed throughout the following two centuries, parallel to to the development of the cult of the Archangel St. Michael.

Patronage of the church was established, first by Dukes, then by Lords. So it was that the first mention of the parish of Pont de Vie appeared in a Charter of 994, in which Duke Richard I gave to the Monastery at Jumièges all his remaining lands in and around Vimoutiers, including those between the town and Pont de Vie: « …land on both sides of the way leading to Mont St Michel ».

Pont de Vie church covers four eras

In the 11th and 12th centuries the church as first built now forms the nave of the current building. It was built from the brown stone typical of the area, and in the Roman style of all the churches of that time, with a framework constructed separately from huge wooden beams.

Altars ancient and modern

Major extensions were added between the 13th and 16th centuries with the construction of a Gothic chancel and the lengthening of the nave in brown stone. Under the current altar is a fine stone altar, evidently of the 13th century.

The bell tower

The smaller bell was made in 1453, refounded in 1858 and dedicated to God in honour of St Denis. The workmanship of the bigger bell, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and made at Ernest Bolée’s Le Mans foundary between 1830 and 1842, was awarded a silver medal. The bell tower was enlarged in the 19th century, with an interior in 18th century style.

The Mont St Michel pligrim routes have been re-instated by L’Association des chemins de St Michel.
The re-opening of the pilgrim route at Pont de Vie, which passes in front of the Church of St Denis, took place on the 11th and 12th September 2004.

Translated by the Alliance Anglo Normande

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