Beaulieu-les-Loches is across the river from Loches. In 11thC Foulques Nerra, Count of Anjou, founded a Benedictine Abbey here. A town grew up round the Abbey with a mint, market and fairs. It didn’t have the strong defences of neighbouring Loches and was twice occupied by the English. Merchant, burghers and peasants began to gather in Loches rather than Beaulieu. During the Wars of Religion the abbey was plundered by the Huguenots and in the Revolution the abbey assets were sold off and the sanctuary became the parish church. The town further declined in the 19thC and is now a suburb of Loches.
Recently, as a means of promoting tourism, there has been a renewed interest in the history and heritage of the town. There is a town trail with information and leaflets in English, from the Marie. Equipped with these, we set out to explore. There is a large car park on the D92 on the southern edge of the town.
It is an interesting town to explore. After the Hundred Years War, a wall had been built round the town. The gateways have gone but it is possible to follow the line of the walls to the south east of the old town. Outside the walls were market gardens, although most are now disused. Outside the south gate of the town was a Leper hospital. The building dates from the 12thC and is a sturdy rectangular building. This has been restored and is now a dwelling.
Many of the 16thC half timber frame or stone houses survive in the centre of the town. Streets are narrow and can get busy with traffic.
In the centre is what is referred to as the 12thC Templar’s House, although there are no surviving documents to prove it was built by the Templars. It is a large solidly built stone building. Stone steps lead up to the door on the first floor. A covered archway leads into a courtyard. Close to it is Hôtel Suzor, a 17thC house belonging to the Suzor family, a wealthy manufacturing family of cloth makers and wool merchants.
15thC Agnes Sorrell’s house is on the northern edge of the old town, although there is no documented proof she stayed here. She was the official mistress of Charles VII with her base at Loches. This was probably part of a much larger mansion.
A bit further to the north is Villa St Pierre which was built on the site of the 11thC église St-Pierre. This had been built outside the wall. The base of the round tower survives as part of the building along with traces of the nave and choir.
Église St-Laurent dates from the 11thC, although most of the present building is newer than this, and was the original parish church. After the Revolution it became the family burial vault of Marquis de Bridieu. It is no longer used apart from a few musical events. it is a huge barn of a building with a stubby tower. This has double open bell windows with arches below a low pointed roof.
The west end is buttressed with a large square doorway leading into the nave and a smaller round topped door to side. There is a large Gothic style window above the main door and smaller Romanesque windows for the side aisles.
Inside, the nave is short but very wide. Two round pillars with carved tops support the vaulted ceiling. Big round arches connect the side aisles and the chancel. There are the remains of frescoes on the walls particularly on the chancel arch above the south aisle. Ceiling bosses are carved and painted. The walls are plain apart from the remains of a memorial tombstone on the south wall. There are no altars in the north aisle or chancel At the end of the south Aisle is a stone slab with two small memorial tablets on either side.
Église abbatiale de l’Abbaye de la Sainte-Trinité was built in 11thC by Foulques Nerra in atonement for his murder of Hugh de Beauvais and also as a suitable burial place. The Abbey was sacked an burnt by the English during the Hundred Years War and there was further damage during the Wars of Religion. In the 16thC the nave and choir were badly damaged and in the 18thC, the transept tower collapsed.
Now only the 12thC west tower survives with its spire and corner pinnacles. Parts of the north wall of the nave remain attached to the tower, and the position of the nave pillars is marked on the ground. The 20thC church is built into the ruins of the old chancel. This has a small squat tower above the transept and a small pinnacle in the south west corner. Flying buttresses support the east end. The remains of the original windows can be seen on the the outside wall of the nave. The large west doors are kept locked and entry is through a small door at the end of the south wall.
The chancel and the east end of the nave are 11/12thC. The rest of the nave is later. It used to have an ambulatory but tis is now blocked off. Rest of nave is later.
The nave is very tall with two side aisles. It is very plain inside. Tall pillars support pointed arches and have a small band of carving round the top. The Stations of Cross are very stylish stone carvings. The vaulted ceiling has carved bosses. The wall mounted wooden pulpit has an open crown above the canopy.
The south aisle has a stone sarcophagus in the floor containing the body of Foulques Nerra (970-1040). There is an inscription carved in the wall above. On the end wall of the south aisle are carvings of Joseph and the young Jesus, and also Mary with Jesus, with a small wooden cross between them. At the back is a statue of St Philomene.
There is a very ornate altar at end of the north transept which has a glass coffin underneath containing a body. There is no documentation about this. Above is a wooden table with a frieze with gilt carved grapes along the top and a gilt host box. Above are gilt statues, separated by pillars with a cross and palm tree.
Steps lead up into the chancel. This has a small wooden mass altar and very stylish carved wood eagle lectern. On the side walls are old choir stalls with beautifully carved misericords. These are mostly heads but there is a carving of a cat with foliage coming out of its mouth. There is no high altar, but on the east end is a splendid Abbot’s chair of carved and painted wood. The misericord has a carving of a head with foliage coming out of the mouth.
Below the windows are three triangular blind arches painted with an outline of red diamonds with a small red motif in the centre. Above the Abbot’s chair is a crucifix. On either side are statues of St John and St Fiacre holding a watering can and a spade. On the outside of these are St Paul holding a sword and St Peter holding the key of Heaven with a cockerel at his feet. A small gilt and white wood host box is mounted on the north wall of the chancel arch. The large stained glass window at the east end has pictures of Christ with the apostles.
Next to the Abbey is the Hôtel de Ville. This is a large classical building which was originally bullt as a Convent in 1700. It was sold after the Revolution and became the Hôtel de Ville. Across the road is the Abbot’s House.
Few visitors make it to Loches. It lacks the attractions and impact of its bigger neighbour of Loches. Nebver-the-less it is an attractive town and repaid the couple of hours spent exploring with the guide.