Switzerland: Baroque Paintings in the Cournillens Chapel

February 10, 2023
Source: fsspx.news

The chapel of Cournillens – a small town between Friborg and Morat –, dedicated to St. Léger, was an important place of pilgrimage until the beginning of the 20th century. Pilgrims would flock there to venerate the relics of the saint and to go to the miraculous source. Said to cure eye diseases, this water flows in a stone fountain.

In the 1970s, a worker, in charge of installing a switch in the choir of the chapel, spotted traces of paint under the plaster covering the walls and the ceiling. “Might there be frescoes under the coating?” asked Fr. René Dubey (1910-1994), chaplain of Cournillens.

This was at the origin of the restoration of a cycle of paintings in the Baroque style made around 1680 by Johann Franz Pantly on the walls of the choir and the vault, and representing the martyrdom of St. Léger (616-678). Fr. Dubey, who was parish priest in Fribourg, Villarepos, and Sorens, before arriving in Cournillens, had the paintings in the choir restored.

He immediately contacted Etienne Chatton, then curator of historical monuments in the canton of Fribourg. “It was a delicate and long-term job: removing the white plaster without destroying the paintings, plugging the holes, filling in the gaps.”

The task was entrusted to Jan Horky, an art restorer based in Fribourg. From 1975 to 1976, he restored the paintings of the vault representing the Kingdom of God with the Holy Trinity and, on the top of the walls, the cycle of the life of St. Léger, described in eight narrative scenes, medallions of a rather straightforward composition.

St. Léger (616-678) or Léodegard, lived at the time of the Merovingian kings. A man full of wisdom, he assumed the duties of Bishop of Autun and adviser to the king. Pursued by his enemy Ebroïn, mayor of the palace at the court of King Childéric, he preferred to surrender in order to avoid a bloody siege of the city of Autun. For having suffered the torture of the eyes, he becomes the protector of the visually impaired. It is celebrated on October 2.

The restoration work on the choir and the vault of the chapel cost more than 90,000 francs at the time, and was made possible thanks to donations from people in the region and from other cantons, religious congregations, priest friends, as well as subsidies from the Romande Loterie, and Historical Monuments. Fr. Dubey also contributed a great deal, nearly 50,000 francs.

Considered the oldest hermitage in the canton of Fribourg, the chapel is mentioned in written sources beginning in the 11th century. A recluse lived there in 1300. Several hermits succeeded each other from the end of the 15th century.

The erection of a chaplaincy allowed the arrival of the first hermit priest, Jean Du Prez, serving the St. Léger chapel in 1680. Msgr. Jean-Baptiste de Strambino, bishop of Lausanne, consecrated the chapel two years later.