Above the entrances to several of the Romanesque Churches in this region you can see a sculpture of a Horseman with a person at the feet of the horse, seemingly about to be trampled on.
These sculptures are sometimes in a poor state of repair as over the 800 or more years since they were first created they will have erroded away somewhat and also been the vicitims of religous rivalry. Also some will have been restored and not neccesarily to their original specification.
Examples are to be found at various places in Poitou-Charentes including, Civray ( not very good), Parthenay-le-Vieux, Melle (This was restored in 1871 but an engraving by E Braugier Conte made in 1843 showed the horse with no legs and significantly no one getting trampled on.) , Surgeres, La Rochelle and Chateauneuf. Also there was one at Aulnay but this dissapeared some 500 years ago.
So who is he and what does it represent? Well I have not been able to find out, there are quite a few references to Le Cavalier on the internet and there are quite a few possible explanations but nothing definitive.
Most popular is that it represents Constantine the First and the person getting trampled represents heathenism. Constantine was the first Christian Roman Emperor. He was responsible for the Edict of Milan in 313 which legalised Christian worship….so it would be a good choice to put a sculpture of him above the entrance of a church built in the Romanesque style. One little extra to all this is that the sculpture may actually be inspired by a statue of Marcus Aurelius on a horse in Rome which French pilgrims to Rome saw in the Eleventh and twelth centuries and mistook for Constantine so that on their return to this area, they commisioned the scupting of a horseman like Marcus Aurelius.
Other ideas are that it may be a sort of hybrid of Constantine and Charlemagne or even Jesus..
One site that goes into a lot of detail about Le Cavalier can be found by clicking this link
Another view comes from Dennis Aubrey who has a very good site called Via Lucis of photos from churches and he said ,’ I have heard two consistent reports – the first is that it is Constantine representing the triumph of the Roman Church. The second is that it is often suggested that it is Saint Martin de Tours; usually there is a figure of the beggar below and a reference to the sharing of the cloak. I will check my photos on those specific churches and get back to you.’
So as you can see there are a lot of possibilities but next time you look up at a Romanesque church and see a chap on a horse or what remains of him you will at least have some idea of what it is all about.