The church of St Jean de Pourcharesse, with its beautiful slate roof, its polygonal apse, and its distinct “comb” belfry, is visible on entering the village. It has been listed nationally as an historical monument since 1971.
It was a religious site before 1000 CE, and probably before Charlemagne. La Charta Vetus [“the old charter”], a valuable collection of old charters assembled around 950 by the Bishop of Viviers, Thomas II, mentions the church and its owner: “Guitardus tenet ecclesiam Santi Joannis in Porcaria” [“Guitardus holds the church of St John in Pourcharesse”]. (*) That church, of which nothing remains except the site, was placed under the patronage of St John the Baptist.
This collection of charters shows that the parish of St Jean de Pourcharesse was neither founded by monks nor affiliated with a convent or abbey; and some time before the 12th century it belonged to the Chapter or College of the cathedral church of Viviers. (*) The church was rebuilt in the 12th century. It was the property of the lords of Châteauneuf de Randon until, in a division of property in 1255, the parish of Pourcharesse went to Guigon de Châteauneuf, lord of Joyeuse. Only at the beginning of the 16th century does the church appear in official records.
Inside, the arch of the nave has a slight fracture. An arch separates two spans. The ceiling of the apse is a quarter-sphere (“cul-de-four”) vault. Two chapels at the sides of the nave have vaulted arches with sculpted bases, one depicting an angelic musician, the other St John the Baptist presenting the Divine Lamb.
Along with these features are a beautiful baptismal font and a recently restored baroque altarpiece. Be sure to see also the reproductions of two paintings discovered in the choir behind the altar when it was restored: in 13th-century iconography they represent two angels, one of them Saint Michael (in Catholic tradition, the Archangel Michael is invoked for protection against demons).
Along with its architecture, a beautiful aspect of this authentic monument lies in the painted decorations covering almost all the walls and vaults. The frescoes mentioned above, and the decoration of the walls, suggest that the building hasn’t yet given up all its secrets. Conserving and restoring these paintings, or re-creating them, is a wonderful goal for the activities and research undertaken to restore the glory of this very interesting church, a true treasure in the heritage of southern Ardèche.
(*) Abbot Joseph Jouffre; “A forgotten parish: St Jean de Pourcharesse”, Revue du Vivarais no 3, July-September 1983.