Whether the twisted roof of the Mervans church tower was intentionally built this way or whether it has twisted over time is a matter of debate. In addition, when the church collapsed in 1902, the tower was the only part of the church that remained completely undamaged. Of course, that gives people a lot of room for legends.
The church was built in the 14th century on the site of an older Roman church. It’s dedicated to Saint Maurice, a commander of the Roman army’s Theban legion who was martyred for his faith in the third century. The original brick church was completely renovated in 1893, but less than ten years later it collapsed on the night of Good Friday in 1902. The entire nave of the church was destroyed, with only the bell tower remaining intact. Over the next 20 years, the citizens of Mervans collected money to rebuild the nave.
The square tower of the church measures about 20 meters (66 feet) high, excluding the roof. The top of the twisted roof reaches a height of about 35 meters (115 feet). The roof is covered with Burgundian color glazed tiles arranged to form a pattern. Each of these patterns in all roofs of this type is unique and made entirely by hand. The church tower in Mervans is the only twisted church tower in the Saône-et-Loire department. There are two possibilities why the roof of the church Saint-Maurice is twisted.
It is possible that the builder of the steeple deliberately constructed the roof in this way. The planning and construction of such a roof is not easy, but it is possible. The Compagnons du Devoir is a guild that has been training craftsmen and artisans since the 16th century. At the end of a journeyman carpenter’s training, the guild requires them to construct one of these steeples, often called a flèche torse (twisted arrow).
However, it is also possible that the steeple has twisted over time. This happens, for example, due to strong winds, the use of young, not yet dried wood in the construction of the roof truss, faulty construction of the roof truss, or the use of a cover that is too heavy.
When the roof was inspected in 1893, inspectors did not come to a clear conclusion. It was found that the axes are not parallel and different measurements were found regarding the rotation, which would indicate unintentional later rotation of the roof. However, it was also found that the rotation of the edges, at least, was probably intended by the builder. So there is no official explanation for the twisted roof and local legends explain the construction.
The best-known story comes from the poet Claude Perreaut: The Baroness von Marvans hired a carpenter by the name of Crétin to build the church. When the church was nearly complete, only missing the cross and the weather vane atop its steeple, he stopped working for the night. Since it did not yet have the protection of a cross, Crétin kept vigil up in the bell tower, armed with a vat of holy water. When the devil had his claws on the top of the church tower Crétin quickly doused him with holy water. The devil fled, but the twisted steeple remains to this day.
Know Before You Go
The church can be seen from the outside at all times.
If you want to go inside, you will have to come during daytime hours.