Eguisheim is one of those beautiful, flower-filled, photogenic villages in North Eastern France in the region known as Alsace.
It’s also where storks come to nest although there were only a couple of nests in evidence when we were there.
But the reason for our pilgrimage here was to see the virgin of the opening stomach (vierge ouvrante). I had come across a photo of this particular statue on the internet when I had idly “googled” images of the Virgin. Until then I had no idea such a thing existed and I was keen to see her for myself. As luck would have it, our return trip from Italy took us through Alsace.
Eguisheim’s archives mention there being a parish church from 1128. The church belonged to the Convent of Marmoutier. The roman basilica was constructed between 1230 and 1240 but all that remains of the building, which was destroyed in 1807, is the bell tower which has a magnificently sculpted doorway depicting Christ with Saints Peter and Paul beside him surrounded by arches of floral motifs. The bas relief depicts the story of the wise and foolish virgins.
The porch is home to a painted wooden sculpture known as the “Vierge Ouvrante” (lit. opening Virgin) dating from the 13-14th century which is the only example of this type in Alsace. This type of statue, originally quite common, was proscribed from religious art by the Council of Trent between 1549-1563 and have thus become extremely rare.
The Virgin probably carried a lily or a sceptre (long since gone) in her right hand. The Child’s right hand (also gone) was probably raised in benediction. In his left hand he carried a globe. The Virgin’s head is covered in a veil above which the rounded piece of wood probably bore a crown, which has also disappeared.
The two leaves of the central part of the statue are similar to those of an altar piece and are decorated, on their internal surfaces, by angels facing inwards, standing upright and each one carries a large candle.
The central section is a glory, probably intended to house a monstrance, a chalice or a reliquary. The paintings on the inside probably date from the 16th century.
I thought she was the most beautiful mediaeval statue I’ve ever seen.
Eguisheim is also hope to the chapel of St Leon who was born there in 1002 and who later became Pope Leon IX. This is a statue of him and the fountain is dedicated to him.
Inside the chapel is a beautiful painted ceiling and apse