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Saint-Sornin

Until 1902, the neighbouring municipality of Nieulle sur Seudre was part of Saint-Sornin, which has maintained the authenticity that gives it its charm – little flower-bedecked streets and, in the heart of the square, the superb Romanesque church of Saint-Saturnin. 
 

Introduction :

 
The peacefulness and charm of the village, with its woods, ponds and marshes have become tourism trump-cards for Saint-Sornin. The delightful stone houses of winemakers are always appreciated by holidaymakers. Cadeuil, close to Saint-Sornin, is at the crossroads of two very ancient roads, one leading to Oléron from Royan (an important stronghold in the Middle Ages and an essential stop on the road to Bordeaux) and the other from La Rochelle to Saintes. Inns and staging points at the crossroads still attest to the importance of the traffic – nowadays, they have become restaurants.

Between Broue and Cadeuil, the soil is a mixture of levels of sand and clay and almost entirely wooded. Clay, extracted here since Roman times, is used for making tiles and earthenware. There have been many quarries at Saint-Sornin including the “Quarry of hell”, so-named to describe the penury of a quarryman’s job. In use since the Gallo-Roman era, its clay was used in the construction of Brouage. In the 1930s, it became a mushroom farm and today is a resting-place for numerous protected species of bats.
 

Sites :

The Saint-Saturnin church (11th century) was given by Geoffroy Martel, Duke of Anjou to the Abbaye aux Dames in Saintes and rebuilt in a more ornate sculpted style the following century. Despite the destruction wrought by the Wars of Religion, the transept and a span of the nave remain. Still visible are noteworthy capitals decorated with palm-fronds and wrestlers fighting lions. The superb octagonal dome has very unusual decoration. 

Of the former priory that was attached to the church almost nothing remains – just part of the porch crowned with 17th century decoration. On the north side of the church there used to stand a wooden covered market.

The origin of the name given to the Domaine de La Mauvinière is unknown – can it really be “mauvaise vigne” (bad vines)? The manor-house dates from the 16th century and rebuilt a little later. The date of 1676 is sited above the porch and the motto translates as “In tears, I consider the world as Christian” – a reference no doubt to the Wars of Religion. The domain includes a stone-built pigeon loft that is today in ruins. As is frequent in Saintonge, the layout of the domain is of a square, enclosed courtyard; a section of the 17th century wall has a large fireplace decorated with a shield as well as a fountain covered with a shapely “imperial” dome of the same period; both are listed monuments. 

The tower of Broue stands witness to the importance of salt-farming in the Gulf of Brouage in the late Middle Ages. Dominating the gulf with its 27m (the highest landmark in the gulf) it is all that remains of a 12th century stronghold erected on an artificial knoll protected by a ditch. Just the base of the walls and square towers of the 7m high ramparts remain. The ground floor, with no openings, acted as storage for weapons and victuals. On the first floor, the huge fireplace and the large bays are the only evidence of a lord’s comfortable home. 

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