The church’s architecture is typically Romanesque with a Latin cross plan and massive rubblestone buttress walls, with slim openings.
After having been labeled as a Historical Monument in 1862, the architect Paul Abadie organized the church’s great restoration programme. Abadie, a disciple of Viollet le Duc, had previously participated in restoring Notre-Dame de Paris. But he was mainly famous for having designed the architectural plans for the Sacré Cœur basilica in Paris.
Abadie aimed to restore the church’s symmetry, removing the Gothic additions and rehabilitating its original Romanesque aspect. He had the great 15th century Gothic chapel torn down and replaced it with a more consistent apse. Dormers, which were removed later on, were added to the western bell tower. He also added a surprising cone-shaped arrow with scales on it, on top of the central lantern tower. This Neo-Byzantine cone, which had a turret with small columns upon it, was representative of Abadie’s works : he used these types of cones on Saint-Front church in Périgueux, Saint Peter’s church in Angoulême, as well as on several domes of Sacré Cœur basilica in Paris.
These 19th century transformations were violently criticized, for they have nothing to do with Limousin architecture. Thus, in 1993, during the church’s last restoration, the cone was hidden beneath an arrow which is covered in chestnut wood slats, much like Russian Matryoshka dolls. This 19th century addition is completely preserved, and does not disfigure the building’s architectural harmony.
The church and Paul Abadie
This sequence shows how famous architect Paul Abadie led an incredible renovation campaign on Bénévent’s abbey church during the 19th century.