St Martin St Augustin Church Nice Places to go in Nice

Arguably the oldest in Nice, but one of the least well known is the St. Martin- St. Augustin church. It is still worth a visit as you can glimpse XVth Century French art and look around one of the oldest parts of Nice’s old town. The impact of Italian art on the area of Provence should not be underestimated. Much of what was deemed aesthetically pleasing and fashionable was coming from Italy and as Nice was often ruled by Italian cities and local dukes or counts closely tied to Italian politics, it took some time for local art to flourish.

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The church is made up of an old parish church and a convent. Each one had a different name, but the continued use of two saint names is interesting. One can only divine as to the reason. Saint Martin is either Saint Martin of Tours who was famous for his holiness and poverty and died around 402 or Pope Martin I condemned to death by the Byzantine emperor Constans II and martyred in 655. The name St. Augustine is easily recognizable. A catholic brotherhood developed and lived according to some of his teachings known as the Rule.

The St. Martin part is an old parish church going back as far 1249. The St. Augustine brotherhood’s presence in Nice goes as far as the end of the XIIIth Century. At the beginning of the XVth Century, they were given permission to build a new convent near the parish church and also to use it for their religious office. As there was no one to manage the old parish church, the Augustine brothers were in charge of it from 1422 to 1793. Nice was not part of France when the French Revolution arrived on her doorstep, so the city suffered quite a bit. All goods owned by the Augustine order in Nice were seized and auctioned off, which included the convent but not the parish church.

The parish church was partially rebuilt between 1681 and 1690. Much of what you see now is from this period. When the Kingdom of Sardinia temporarily regained control of Nice in the XIXth Century prior to its accession to France in 1860, its army occupied the convent. In 1907, it was became the seat of the ‘Genie Francais,’ but now is the Filley barracks.

The church retains much of its original Baroque characteristics, especially in the façade, but do pause at the multi-coloured marble pieces. The main attraction is inside. Go towards the Pieta panelling in the chancel. A pieta is the dead Christ in the lap of the Virgin. The XVth Century artist, Louis or Ludovico Brea, made it. He was born in Nice in 1450 and died in Genoa in 1523. He was a principal member of the school of Provence developing a ‘primitive’ style more in tune with local traditions. He is famous for his work on the Saints Marguerite and Marthe that can be found in the Fine Arts Museum in downtown Nice.

An interesting nearby attraction is the memorial almost opposite the church itself to Catherine Ségurane who was a washer-woman said to have played an important role in repulsing the Turks in 1543.

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