Mezy-Moulins, Eglise de la Nativité
Jan 04

Mézy-Moulins, Église Notre-Dame

1215-1230 France, Mézy-Moulins (Aisne)

The church of Notre-Dame in Mézy-Moulins is one of the most interesting parish churches built in the premier art gothique. Situated on the left bank of the Marne river, not far from Château-Thierry, the church was erected in the first quarter of the 13th century. Despite its relatively small size Notre-Dame in Mézy displays a rather sophisticated architecture that seems to be infuenced by the cathedral workshop of Soissons as well as the abbey church of St. Yved in Braine.

Mezy-Moulins, Eglise Notre-Dame
Notre-Dame in Mezy-Moulins as seen from the banks of the Marne (Sept 2014)

One of the most remarkable features of Notre-Dame in Mézy-Moulins is the use of flying buttresses in a small parish church as early as the first decade of the 13th century. They have been used, of course, already in the abbey churches of St. Remi in Reims (1180-1185) and St. Yved in Braine (1190-1216), but it wasn't before 1210/1220 that they were introduced to the vocabulary of smaller church buildings.

Taking into account the ambitious architecture used in the contruction of Notre-Dame in Mézy-Moulins, the church is of considerably small size. It measures 27 m in lentgh and 13 m in width, elevating 3,90 m to the top of the vaults in the interior. Up until now I don't know of a satisfactory explanation why the edifiers have bestowed such great care in the erection of a parish church.
The parish of Mézy is mentioned for the first time in the chartulary of St. Pierre de Chézy, dated 1155, but the manuscript does not give a date for the foundation of the parish. Another mention is to be found in the Annales du diocèse de Soissons by the Abbé Pécheur, written as late as 1868, where Pécheur speaks of Notre-Dame de Mézy under the episcopate of Lisiard de Crépy, bishop of Soissons (1108-1126). We may thus assume that a parish existed already in the 11th century.
Mézy-Moulins held relations with the abbeys of Chézy, Coincy and later with on the royal abbey of Jouarre, but none of them sufficiently explains the effort and the wealth put into the building of the present church. Possibly the most convincing attempt relates the architectural ambition to the economical benefits drawn from the exposed location of Mézy. Not only did the village posses quite some mills, it also controlled the ferry across the Marne and it is situated close to two Roman roads linking Soissons with Troyes on one hand and Paris with Reims on the other.

Interior

When we visited the church early in September we found it closed, so I can only point to some interesting aspects without being able to illustrate them by photographies. The architectural efforts shown on the exterior are continued in the interior. The cross section shows a basilica, including clerestory windows, a triforium and pointed arches leading to the side aisles. None of these features one would usually expect in a parish church of this date.

Literature

There's not much literature on the church of Mézy-Moulins. The most valuable information is provided by Mme Yolaine Baduel d’Oustrac in an article entitled "Étude historique et architecturale de l'église de Mézy-Moulins", published in Mémoires de la Fédération des Sociétés d'histoire et d'archéologie de l'Aisne Bd. 27 (1982) p. 27-39, which is based on Mme Baduel's Master thesis, written under the auspice of Louis Grodecki (Link).
Some helpful considerations are also provided by Dieter Kimpel and Robert Suckale in their magnum opus Die gotische Architektur in Frankreich 1130-1270, Munich 1985, p.213, 268, 272, 496.