SAVOIE: La Haute Maurienne

From Chambéry through Bessans to the Averole valley, the routes go over two passes on the territory of the Duchy of Savoy, the Arnès pass (3,010 m), and its descent into the Ala valley, and the Autaret pass (3,072 m), which descends towards the Viù valley. Turin is reached through ‘Marguerite’s Lands’. This territory, the Lanzo valleys (Alà and Viù), ruled by the Laws of Marguerite written in the mid fourteenth century, remained
faithful to the House of Savoy in the sixteenth century.
La Haute Maurienne – Site 02

Bessans (1740 m) – église Saint-Jean-Baptiste

Wood working is a tradition in Bessans. In 1857, a rebellious and mischievous cantor, sculpted a devil figure in cambro pine which became the symbol of the village.
Parish church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste.
Mentioned in 1446, it was modified in 1576, 1689, 1858, and 1920. Its steeple is made up of a roof with copper plates capping an open wooden structure surmounting a stone tower. It is not entirely made of stone like the other steeples of Haute Maurienne. It is one of the five steeples which survived revolutionary destruction in Savoy and which is believed to have served as a fire or smoke tower in the High Middle Ages, i.e. as part of a chain on the Chambéry-Turin axis over the Carro pass (3,149 m).
Two fragments of a fresco from 1632, by an unknown artist, are preserved on the interior left-wing wall of the parish church. One had initially been placed above the entrance door of a building, the Maison Morte (the Dead House), which no longer exists. On it, St Charles Borromeo can be seen worshipping the Cross with Saint Sebas- tian and Saint Michael behind him. This is the interpretation of Salesian Giuseppe Mario Terzuolo, a contemporary expert on the Holy Shroud. The other fragment represents the Holy Shroud.
One should also pay attention to the coffered ceiling of the vestibule and the Altar of the Rosary, from the seventeenth century, as well as a calvary, hanging on a wall, which represents Christ without any navel, nailed on a cross, on either side of whom are statues of the Virgin Mary and Saint John. This anonymous work is believed to have been produced around the same time as a stone in the choir of the church dated 1576.

La Haute Maurienne – SITE 02

Bessans (1740 m) – chapelle Saint-Antoine

Wood working is a tradition in Bessans. In 1857, a rebellious and mischievous cantor, sculpted a devil figure in cambro pine which became the symbol of the village.
The Chapelle Saint-Antoine, a listed monument, is believed to have been built between 1503 and 1522. Inside, on three walls, two parallel rows of panels representing the life of Christ can be seen, from the Nativity to Pentecost, in the same style as the paintings of the Chapelle Saint-Sébastien in Lanslevillard.
There used to be other representations in the apse, but the wall was demolished and rebuilt to extend the cemetery, which is why a lot of them were lost.
The clothing depicted in the frescoes is noteworthy as well, as it is typical of the fashion of the 1450-1460s. The Transfiguration is of particular interest, as is the Hanging of Judas, although it is significantly damaged. The latter displays an imp hanging the soul of Judas (an image also found on other frescoes). Another fresco of importance is that of the Last Supper, depicted as taking place in a typical home of the Bessans area. There are also some striking local details, such as the wattle fence of the Garden of Olives.

On the outside, frescoes represent a man-at-arms and the crest of the House of Savoy, the Holy Face of Lucca, Saint Anthony, Urbain from Miolans, an alleged donator, and a panel illustrating a series of ‘Vices and Virtues’.

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