The first church of Brancion, dedicated to Saint-Pierre, is mentioned in the charter of the "Abbey of Cluny" in 964.
In the 12th century this small church wasrebuilt in limestone in place of the old sanctuary at the extremity of a rocky outcrop.
It has the shape of a very elaborated Latin cross with a nave of five vaulted sections in the form of broken arches.
It had a transept on each side of the nave, an apse with two built-in chapels, and a square spire built on a dome over the transept.
The inside is dark because the main nave is not high enough to give direct light.
Only narrow windows on each side provide a dim light. The few wall frescoes are medieval.
The building was classified " Monument Historique" in 1862.
- Heaven, where Abraham is holding a cloth from which escapes a group of souls. On the left an angel brings him the soul of a deceased person. The twelve apostles are on the right.
- On the left six praying pilgrims are approaching a church (possibly Le St Sépulcre) and John the Baptist on the right.
Nativity in the middle.
1840 to 1850: the oldest known reproductions of the wall paintings of the church were carried out between 1840 and 1850 by Marcel Canat de Chizy. A number of missing parts show that the conservation of these paintings had already been bad in 1908 according to Jean Virey. He also mentions that the ones on the apse and the chapels are disappearing".
1909: the church was abandoned and it was only in 1909 that the roof was repaired to protect the paintings. The original windows in the apse which were covered up in the XIV century were reopened, and the ones which were open at that period were covered up, at the same time the previously added lime-wash was removed.
1930: it was only at the end of 1930 that the wall paintings got restored. As it was frequent at that time, the most damaged compositions were transposed on canvas. In 1942, 1943 and 1949 photos were taken and copies done in watercolours. They had to envisage a new restoration in the sixties because of the remaining humidity.
1976: small repair works on the paintings were done in 1974 and 1976: the paintings in the south chapel were repaired and the mineral salts (saltpetre) removed, the paintings in the north chapel were cleaned, some of them consolidated, others replaced. In the north nave and the choir, the décor was cleaned and consolidated. In spite of the interventions the paintings continue to deteriorate due to the very weak support. Today they are in an alarming state.
1983 to 1999: the roof of the north aisle was repaired in order to protect its paintings. Finally in spring 1999 it was urgent to consolidate the paintings of the choir and the apse. Now we are waiting for the "Monuments Historiques" to carry out their draining and drying procedure and restoration.
2000: Awaiting a renovation of the structure of the building, works were carried out to stabilise the state of the paintings.
During spring and autumn the visitor is surprised by the high degree of humidity in the church.
At the beginning of the XIX century the church had been neglected for a number of years, the village of Brancion being abandoned.
On June 2, 1834, we are told that a double arch of the vault of the nave had collapsed.
The conservation of the wall paintings was already very bad in 1860. In 1898, the administrator of Saône-et-Loire wrote a letter in which he refers to the sad state of the church.
It was even suggested to close it. Eventually in 1909, the roofs were repaired as well as the windows.
At last at the end of 1930 one started with the conservation of the frescoes.
Origin of the humidity
Humidity tests, samplings and deep examinations of the disorders showed that this humidity was caused from different factors.
Capillarity: the basement is in limestone set directly on soil that absorbs the rainwater.
Use of concrete to repair the joints of the walls rendered them waterproof and increases the level of the rising dump. Infiltration: cracks and holes in the external surface of walls allow the rainwater to penetrate and then remain in the walls.
Leaks in the roofs: Although repaired in 1909 and 1929, the entire roof is not waterproof and the gutters are not working properly when there are heavy rainfalls.
Condensation: The thickness of the walls, the absence of ventilation and the thermal inertia of the building cause condensation.
The intricate architecture and the paintings of the church of Brancion form a harmonious architectural entity. It gives us an idea of the inside of roman churches, very similar to the Byzantine churches or even to the nearby Chapelle des Moines de Berzé-la-Ville.
If the humidity in the building is not too dangerous for the stone work it renders the paintings irreparable.
Should they disappear the whole monument will be mutilated. When one compares the photos taken on a regular basis, one can see a increasing degradation that must be stopped urgently.
The project to save the church is simultaneously conducted on frescoes restoring and building repairing: waterproofing the spire, mending the roof and gutters, tackling the humidity inside the walls by removing concrete joints and setting up an external drainage.
In spite of the public subsidies, the cost of the repair work is too high for the rural community of Martailly-lès-Brancion since they have another church to look after.