Insecurity reigned in the Middle Ages. As a frontier region, the Meuse saw fortified churches built, with bell towers with "hourdings" which protected the defenders and civil populations in case of attack. Some resisted both assailants and the passage of time magnificently, exceptional examples of architecture combining battlements and machicoulis, without prejudicing the sacred character of the building. The church of Saint-Rémy at Saint-Pierrevillers (12th - 16th century) is an excellent example of this. Under its roof it holds a permanent exhibition of fortified churches in the Meuse.
Churches are not always open: to find out if a church is open, you can contact the Mairie (Town Hall) concerned.
Foucaucourt-sur-Thabas is situated between the forests of Lisle and Argonne. The village is characterised by a spread-out design unusual in the region.
The gothic church of Saint John the Baptist was built in the centre of the village, and dates from the end of the 15th century (choir and nave) and from the first half of the 16th century (doorway). Already damaged during the 1914-1918 war, it was further damaged during the Second World War, when the village was partially destroyed. Like its neighbours, Triaucourt and Evres, it possesses defensive elements in the lower sections (end of the 15th century, first half 17th century), and is distinguished by the presence of five arrow slits one metre from the ground. In addition, there are two arrow slits with redans. This device, unique in Meuse fortified churches, is designed to make bullets ricochet. The stair turret is pierced with five rectangular arrow slits with double splay.
The church of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin is the oldest of the fortified churches in the Meuse. It was built during the second quarter of the 11th century in the heart of the ancient village, near the Landrecourt brook.
It was damaged by several fires, and destined for demolition, when it was saved by the Historic Monuments Department, who listed it in 1908 and began to restore it after the Great War.
It comprises a nave with five bays, a tower flush with the façade, side aisles, an apse and apsidioles. Square pillars support semi-circular arches.
Dugny-sur-Meuse has a double system of active and passive defence. Its fortifications date from the 15th and 16th centuries. The active defence consists particularly of a hourding (16th century) on top of the tower and arrow slits on the floor below. The passive defence was provided by the heightening of the roof timbers of the nave and the choir through a blind strong room located on the second floor of the tower. During the Great War, the church was used as a field hospital.
In the valley of the River Ornain, the church of the Immaculate Conception, constructed for the most part in freestone, has shielded windows and a gatehouse.
The church's choir and bell tower at the crossing of the transepts date from the end of the 17th century or beginning of the 18th century. The nave is in the flamboyant gothic style, and was fortified in the first half of the 15th century. Only the heightening of the nave in rough rubble stone is visible. The choir was raised using mortared stonework. The roof space is defended by fourteen shielded windows.
Outside, there is a gatehouse above the church doorway and a large opening in the south wall of the roof space of the nave. This arrangement was no doubt to provide defence for the old door - today walled-up - providing access to the roofspace from the nave, but also permitting the movement of large volumes to the refuge in the roof.
The church at Tronville displays another curiosity. The slope on the buttresses is decorated with decorative sculpted stone balls, confirming the defensive function of the building.
Ribeaucourt is situated in the Saulx and Perthois area. At the top of the hill, the church of Saint Martin dominates the valley of the Orge and the village.
Built around 1180, it was modified several times between the 14th century and the beginning of the 16th, to allow for the organisation of defences. The roof space of the nave and chevet, heightened by more than a metre, provided refuges measuring a total of 170m² for the populace. These disappeared during the great restoration of 1889, but there remain three strongrooms one above the other in the tower.
The general appearance of the church was noticeably altered during this time by the construction of a new roof and the addition of a sacristy. It consisted of a well-structured nave, a vaulted ante-choir and apse, a bell tower with machicolation and a staircase turret with a crenellated top. The restorer gave his imagination free rein with the upper part of the tower and the roof (neo-gothic style).
In the Meuse valley, the church of Saint-Epvre lies on the edge of the village. It is a gothic building with a single nave with five bays, dating for the most part from the 13th and 14th centuries.
The base of the tower above the right-hand bay in front of the choir is Romanesque. Outside, massive buttresses double the width of the building whose walls are very thick - almost one metre.
The choir, with two bays, is the same width as the nave, and its internal plan is polygonal, whereas the external plan is rectangular (very rare). The entry door was re-sited in 1689, and window openings were modified in the 18th century. The church retains several barred lancet windows , each of which has an arrow slit above. The roof space of the church has been heightened by around 1.8m to provide a refuge.
The choir has rectangular arrow slits splayed towards the interior on three of its sides. Almost all of these still have their corbels for shields. The roof space of the nave was defended from seven elongated, rectangular arrow slits. The staircase turret has three arrow loops splayed towards the interior.
The church of Saint Laurent stands in the middle of the village, in the Meuse valley, on the banks of the Marne-Rhine canal. The main structure, the walls of the nave and the choir appear to date from the 12th century. The different phases of construction reflect the alternating periods of peace and insecurity. In the 14th century, the south bay was built during a period of peace.
The work to defend the church seems to have started at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th centuries by the raising of the roof space of the nave and the choir with re-used stone, and the piercing of windows in the walls above the choir. Solid bars protect the high windows in the nave, accessible from the roof of the south side aisle. Finally, in 1585, the roof space over the south side aisle was raised by 3.7m on two levels and pierced with seven arrow slits. This period saw religious wars and incursions by Protestant troops. The north aisle was constructed in the middle of the 16th century, in a period of calm. The Thirty Years' War marked a new period of hasty construction without resources. The north side aisle was raised and two defensive rooms were provided. The south bay gained an extra level: arrow slits with corbels to hold shields were installed. As at Saint-Pierrevillers, the church at Troussey retains traces of the inhabitants spending time in the roof space: the shaft and recesses of a chimney, a system for water drainage, the digging of a well. The door into the south roof space retains traces of a locking mechanism. Outside, the upper part of the tower from the end of the 17th century (1683) is decorated with stone cannon balls that serve as reminders of the defensive role of the church..
In the Meuse valley, the church of Saint-Gorgon is a rare example of the annexation of a defensive building (keep) by a religious building. This original system allowed the inhabitants to save on building.
A nave and a choir were added in the 16th century to the massive, high square 12th- or 14th-century tower that occupies nearly half of the surface area of the building. The tower's walls are 1.7m thick at the base, and 1.4 at the top. Traces of spaces between the joists and holes for purlins on the east wall of the tower indicate that the roof spaces of the nave were heightened to provide a refuge. The west façade of the tower has a large bay at first-floor level which gave access to the fortified rooms in the tower until the turret staircase was built in the 18th century. Traces of recess holes can still be seen under this covering. They no doubt correspond to a balcony in the roof structure which served at the same time as a supporting pillar for a movable staircase and gatehouse for the defence of the entry door. Each side of the tower is pierced with two arrow slits. The lower storeys have arrow loops splayed towards the interior and enlarged at the base, and several still have supporting bars serving as supports for semi-portable arms mounted on wagons with a hook to protect against recoil, called "arquebuses à croc".
In the Lorraine Regional Natural Park, Woël is situated between the village of Hattonchâtel (former collegiate church and chateau) and the lakes of Lachaussée. In the Woëvre plain, the church of Saint-Gorgon stands in the middle of the village which has a brook, the Seigneulle, running through it.
The construction of the church took place in several distinct phases. The powerful western entrance-tower topped with a "hourding" dates from the 12th century. The short nave with three bays is from the following century. The aisles that lie beside it as well as most of the vaults are from the 16th century. The choir is also from the 16th century, and has just one bay with a chevet with a single section. It was reordered in 1714.
The church in Woël is basilical, with no transepts, as is often the case in Lorraine. It was restored after the 1914-1918 war. The roof spaces do not seem to have been raised.
The tower has four levels of defences one on top of the other. The walls are very thick (1.15m at the base). The hourding which retains a wide overlap over the walls does not seem to have been modified during the alterations after 1918. The defensive piercings are spread over the lateral faces: an arrow slit on the ground floor (north face), an arrow loop with bars on the first floor, two twin arrow slits on the second floor and a rectangular opening on the third floor.
Gironville is situated in the Lorraine Regional Natural Park, near Rangeval Abbey and the towns of Commercy and Saint-Mihiel. In addition to its fortified church, the village has a military fort from the end of the 19th century. The church of Saint-Léger is built on the edge of the hill dominating the village and the Woëvre plain.
Part of the tower is from the 12th century (end of the Romanesque period). The flamboyant-gothic-style choir and the bays date from the beginning of the 16th century. This little church has a nave with four bays, a pentagonal choir and a tower flush with the façade. Inside, there are baptismal fonts dating from 1602.
According to the archives, Charles III, Duke of Lorraine, allowed the inhabitants to build a fortified enclosure around the church in 1588, which was designated a "fort de l'église" (church fort ) - a frequent description in Alsace. Charles III, Duke of Lorraine, sent letters patent to the inhabitants of Gironville authorising them "to build a fort around their church, with four sections of wall, to make four towers there, a ditch and a drawbridge" (Archives of Meuse and Pouillé). Traces of these defences still exist as archaeological remains. The roof spaces in the nave and the choir have been raised: twelve arrow slits are visible, one of which is bricked up. The bell tower provides a good vantage point to observe the Woëvre plain. On the second floor, there is a bay with a semi-circular arch above, perhaps to bring up large volumes.
The top floor of the tower, made into a strongroom, has a recently-reordered hourding. The staircase turret has numerous arrow slits and arrow loop including two hemispherical embrasures for firearms. Gironville is also distinguished by its defensive arrangement on the door of the north aisle: a locking system made up of crosspieces piled up to the height of the lintel.