The Church of St Peter and St Paul



Thanks to the archival records, Eric Yvard's (heritage historian) 2011 study and Jean François Luce's Bretoncelles chronicles ( documents concerning the Church of St Peter and St Paul are rich and informative.

Successive constructions, alterations and "embellishments", more or less well-received and aribitrary, are common to many sacred buildings.  A representative of the regional council's heritage and museums, at a consultation with BPN about the 19th century frescoes discovered during the restoration of the choir, talked figuratively of a "layer cake"  to which each era adds successive strata over time.  This familiar image is completely accurate and BPN continues this evolution by means of restoration, with the agreement of the parish priest.

Its history

Today nothing of the original building is visible, but we know that the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Bretoncelles, was a dependency of the Benedictine monastery of Corbion, founded in 575 by Saint Laumer.

According to tradition, a certain lady Wulfrade, whom Saint Laumer cured of paralysis, is said to have bequeathed her wealth to the monastery around the year 600 on the condition that a sanctuary be erected on each of its domains, of which one was Bretoncelles.


Faced with Viking invasions the monastery was abandoned in 872 and then re-established in the 11th century under its present name of Moutiers.  A papal bull from Innocent II (1243-1254) confirmed that the church was under the jurisdiction of this monastery.

The present church was probably built on the site of the first one, although it is not possible to confirm this.

Before the Revolution, Bretoncelles, Bertoncelli (1245), Beroncelles or Berthoncelles (1296), parish in the county of the Perche, dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, was under the jurisdiction of the deanery of the Perche a dependency of the archdeaconry of Chartres.

La nef restaurée en 2021

Since the Concordat the parish of Bretoncelles belongs to the diocese of Sées and the deanery of Rémalard.  The parish having no priest in residence since 1996, it is the parish priest of Rémalard who has served Bretoncelles since then.

The church was entirely rebuilt in flamboyant Gothic style in the first half of the 16th century.

It would appear that the first construction was the great nave. (opposite, restored in 2021)

No trace remains today of any building from a previous time. The great nave was originally finished with a flat apse.

A large door in the west gable allows entry into the church.

This door has a richly carved tympanum above it framed by Gothic style pinnacles: interlacing typical of flamboyant Gothic, imaginary animals running the length of the mouldings of the basket-handle formed door....

Porche du Pignon Ouest

Eglise restauration du porche

A square belfry has been attached to the right of the nave near the porch.
Le clocher de l'église de Bretoncelles

The ground floor ceiling of the tower was first covered with barrel vaulting in stone evidenced by the many remnants that survive today.

This belfry, or rather bell tower, has known a number of alterations over the centuries.

Between 1606 and 1609 extensive works under the direction of the parish priest, Mathurin Giroust, were begun to build a new one.  The project lasted for four years and went through many difficult winters.

Eglise lanternon

The first mechanical clock installed on the first floor was replaced by an electric clock in 1947.  In 1921 the war memorial was unveiled in front of the bell tower.  It was moved to the other side of the street in 1990.

From outside, the architectural modification of the late 19th century is clearly visible:  bell tower roof with three slopes and vestries on the side walls.

The north side had two doors inserted.  the smaller one probably for lords and the larger undoubtedly for the brotherhood of the Charity.

Fr. Oger had a gable constructed (late 19th century) at the far end the wall, which remained unfinished.

The Factory

The Factory was a confraternity of Charity, an association of parishioners which provided, free of charge, burials, helped and supported grieving families and took part in religious services, helping the the celebrant priest.

These institutions appear in France in the Middle Ages, gaining momentum in the 14th to 15th centuries.  It is possible to date the creation of the Bretoncelles confraternity from towards the end of 1668 to early 1669.

This confraternity played an important role in parishioners' lives and also financed, amongst other things and alongside private individuals, the fitting of stained-glass windows and a group of three Louis XIII style altarpieces in polychrome stone.

The largest, covering the whole choir, originally rested on its flat extremity and the two smaller ones were for each of the side of the nave.

The one in the choir remained in place until 1877.

The stained-glass windows of Abbot Damase Oger

Abbot Damase Oger, originally from Saint-Martin d'Aspres (Orne), was appointed parish priest of Bretoncelles in 1873.  Throughout his ministry he improved the aspect of the church with the help of the Factory.  The flat apse is demolished and replaced by a new one with three bays containing three glass windows allowing better reading light at the main altar. A stone vault was built over the sanctuary. Two vestries were added on each side.

Vitraux Abbé Oger

Vitraux Abbé Oger

Prussian cannon fire on Bretoncelles village centre during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 caused damage to all of the church windows.  Abbot Oger and some parishioners financed the fitting of stained glass windows in all the bays.

In 1897 the parish priest asked for authorisation to complete, at his own expense, the church by building a ten-metre gable at the end of the unfinished north wall.

In 1899 Abbot Oger asked for the removal of the three anchors from the bottom of the church in order to add arches and ribs to the main vault.

A plaster vault was laid over the whole of the interior timberwork to replace the old deteriorated panelling.  The whole construction rests on two small columns decorated with capitals and culs-de-lampe.

Photo: the nave empty during restoration.


Nef vide pendant les travaux de restauration

More work in the 20th and 21st centuries

In September 1926, by request of Abbot Langlois, all the enclosed pews in the church were replaced by chairs with a prie-dieu. The abbot paid for new paving laid under the old pews.

Important modifications were made in 1967:

Upon recommendations given by the clergy to make churches more accessible to all and less ostentatious, statues and the pulpit were removed.  The altar was destroyed and the railings closing off the side chapels were removed. A complete refurbishment of the choir walls and paintings was undertaken.

The church was repainted white in 1969 after the new arrangement inside the church following the Second Vatican Council, which required the priest to conduct the mass in French and facing the congregation.


And more recently....

2011:  Completion of the study of the church's history by Éric Yvard, heritage historian.

2017: Restoration of the church exterior with the Council and the 'Fondation du Patrimoine' (official body responsible for heritage).

2018: Restoration of of the choir which reveals frescoes of the 4 evangelists and a star-studded sky.

2021: Restoration of the vault of the Great Nave, on the right inside the church.

2023: Restoration of the St James chapel (la Chapelle St Jacques).

Further reading ......

For those with a reading knowledge of French:

  • The book, Bretoncelles, un village du Perche, éditions BPN - 2015, notamment p. 18-34
  • Cahiers percherons, n° 195, 3ème trimestre 2013, p 4-25 :
    • L’église Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul de Bretoncelles, d'après l'étude historique d'Eric Yvard.

Last edited: 25/02/2024