Esquéhéries Église Saint-Martin

What you need to know about this church

Église Saint-Martin

Where to find this church

Church Information

Église Saint-Martin is located in Esquéhéries, a commune with 867 inhabitants about 15 km north-east of the town of Guise in the Département Aisne in the région Hauts-de-France.
Building has commenced in 1570.

The church is locked

This church was listed as a historical monument in 1934

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Esquéhéries Église Saint-Martin
West view
North-east corner

Visiting Église Saint-Martin

Our visit to Saint-Martin Church in Esquéhéries turned out to be probably the most remarkable of our church tour in October 2022, which of course we had not anticipated. But first things first.

Saint-Martin is considered by many experts to be one of the most aesthetically perfect fortified churches in the whole of the Thiérache, for the following reasons.
It is built entirely of red brick – except for the foundation; the typical architectural style for the churches of the Thiérache. This also explains its nickname of the “Red Fort”, which it shares with the church of the same name in Wimy.

It was built in the middle of the village on a slight hill to be able to recognise possible dangers from afar. Its elevated position makes it look larger to visitors than it actually is.

And finally, it was planned in a completely balanced way, based on the symmetry of towers and window openings and even the dimensions: the nave is a perfect rectangle of 33m x 11m; there is a tower at each of the four corners, with the towers of the east side as well as the west side each being of equal height; and finally, the six window openings each are evenly distributed along the south and north walls of the nave. The only deviation from perfect symmetry is the small southern side door with its four steps.

The church, as we see it today as a fortified church, was built between 1570 and 1696 on a sandstone foundation (which is the only deviation from the red brick) that probably dates back to the first church on the site from the 12th to 14th centuries.

Over the years, it has been slightly altered, restored and even briefly put to a different use: during the French Revolution, it housed a gunpowder factory. Then in the 19th century the window openings were enlarged, and in the 1920s the war damage inflicted on it during World War 1 was repaired, the original ceiling being replaced by a cross-ribbed brick vault.

Currently, we have been able to admire the result of the latest restoration work, which began in 2018 and was only recently completed: in order to remedy the overall poor condition of the church, the exterior masonry has been completely restored, the tightness on the walls around the stained glass windows has been restored, the towers have been secured, the roof truss of the choir of the church has been reinforced and, finally, the roofing of each of these elements has been renewed.

As you can see from the photos in the slide show, Saint-Martin now looks very well cared for again; this is all the more striking if you compare, for example, the photos on the Wikipedia page or in the Grandpierre/Lecomte book with the current ones.

Even though it is one of the most important fortified churches in the entire Thiérache, it is unfortunately usually locked. It is therefore not possible to see the main elements of the fortification from the inside.

Unless you have the luck of the church photographer: when we arrived at the church and looked around, we were immediately approached by an extremely friendly lady – to our great surprise, even in German. She asked if we were here because of the church, which we answered in the affirmative. Unfortunately it was locked, but she would try to organise the key. Which she then tried to do with great enthusiasm, and finally succeeded. After her husband had fetched the key, we were thus able to visit the inside of the church.

A little disappointing is the interior of the ship, which is rather sober in relation to the spectacular exterior. In this respect, it is a “normal” French village church. However, the south-west tower can be entered from the nave. Here you can see how thick the walls were built – after all, it is a fortified church.

The highlight of the visit, however, was the opportunity to enter the actual fortifications above the choir through the staircase in the south-east tower. Here is the refuge room where the whole congregation used to find refuge. This area has not yet been renovated, so everything still appears very spartan. But this is probably the condition that comes much closer to the “original” from the years of construction than, for example, the completely renovated church in Plomion.

Now you know why this was probably the most remarkable visit on our church tour. But if you are in the area, be sure to check out this church anyway. Benches have been set up on the grassy area in front of the church, perfect for a picnic in fine weather – with a view of one of the truly spectacular fortified churches of the Thiérache.

View into the nave
View into the south-west tower
Refuge hall