églises jurassiennes

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The churches:
Baume l'abbaye
Baume l'église
le Frasnois
Lons le Saunier
Pont de Poitte
le Vaudioux



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Jura churches

  The Jura is one of the most easterly départements of France. It sits on the Swiss border to the north of Geneva, and is the most southerly of the four départements that make up the région franche-comte.

It is a gentle land of meadows and forests, set in a landscape that climbs from below 300m in the north west to above 1200m in the south east. It is a rural département - the area is 5000 square kilometres, and there are just 230,000 people. (In comparison, 'rural' Suffolk in England is less than two thirds the size, with three times the population).

Saint-Maurice at Monnet-la-Ville, on its conical graveyard.
Saint-Maurice, Monnet-la-Ville, on its conical churchyard near Lac de Chalain

  The villages of the Jura tend to be close together; it is hard to cycle for more than three miles without coming to another one. Wide empty roads connect them, perfect for cycling.

The villages are small, and intensely agricultural. Shops, cafes and bars are few and far between outside the towns and tourist areas.

For the English, this is not a well-known département.

Most villages are clustered around their church, and the church is usually at the highest point in the village. Many of the churches have pretty domes, similar in style to those of neighbouring Bourgogne; but the Burgundy churches tend to be set in a harsher landscape.


The Jura is le pays qui respire - the richness of the land is there for all to see. The height of the ground and its distance from the nearest sea mean that a heavy dew falls every morning, and the grass is rich and green even after months without rain. The slopes are heavily wooded; you climb up though forests, and then cycle out into wide, gently undulating alpine meadows. There are harsh winters, and baking summers.

Because there is so little traffic away from the main roads, the Jura has a soundtrack all of its own. As you cycle between the villages in the high heat of the summer, the buzzards cry out as they spiral above you, and through the forest come the cowbells from a distant meadow.

Above all else, the brown and white cows symbolise the Jura, lazily grazing their way across the sloping meadows, their bells a languid serial cacophony. Their milk goes to the village fruitiéres, who turn it into the famous Comté cheese.

One of the cows is on the site logo; I met her on the high lonely road between Fontenu and Mont-sur-Monnet. I was having trouble with my camera, but she stood patiently waiting for me while I sorted it out.


Marigny, one of the larger villages in the Lac de Chalain area.
Marigny, in the south of the Jura

  The Jura has no towns of any size. The largest is Dole, up in the north, which has about 30,000 people. The departmental capital, Lons-le-Saunier, is near the centre, and has about 24,000 people. Champagnole has about 8,500. In the countryside, the tourists tend to congregate around the lakes of the south-east. At lower altitudes, the vines cover southern slopes; higher up, the forests become thicker, and the air is full of the heady scent of pine, gentian and myrtille. The land becomes mountainous on the Swiss border.

The churches of the Jura tend to have few Romanesque or Gothic survivals. Many were heavily restored in the 17th century. They have escaped the worst excesses of Baroque, and are generally rural and charming.


Which way now? Roads double back in the high Jura.
Roads double back on the slopes of the high Jura

There is an abbey of national significance at Baume-les-Messieurs, and a small cathedral at Saint-Claude. Significant early medieval survivals can be found at Dole and Lons-le-Saunier.

I began documenting the churches of the Jura in the summer of 2002. I took most of the photographs here in the summer of 2003. So far, 29 churches have been added to this site - there are links to them in the left hand column. More will be added in the years ahead.

In the left hand column you will also find links to a map of the area, and a guide to useful books and websites.

Simon Knott, Marigny/Ipswich

With thanks to Daniel Police for his ever-helpful advice, and to Jacqueline for her patience.