Apr. 21st, 2012

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We're having a rather wet afternoon here.  We decided not to ride the bikes because the clouds looked ominous, so we walked our usual four mile circuit round the village, I did the warm-up of my workout to try and get myself a bit more flexible, then we went to the garden centre because I was out of peat-free compost and peat pots.  I'd been home just long enough to pot up a begonia and kick my sweet peas out for the summer before the heavens opened.  We had hail, we had lightning, we had thunder.  And now I've given up planting my last batch of seeds today.

Now, if those of you who know Carcassone are assuming that I'm going to go from the city's fortifications straight to the castle, then you're wrong.  I'm going to take a little ecclesiastical detour first of all, though we're remaining in Carcassone. 

This is quite logical, in a way.  Le Duc, who spearheaded the restoration projects at the city, was first responsible for carrying out restoration works at the basilica.  It was while he was carrying out these works that he got interested in the city and started to study it in detail.

Until 1803, The Basilica of Saint Nazaire was classed as a Cathedral, but it lost its status in favour of the Cathedral of St Michael in the lower city.  At this time, the medieval fortified city was virtually depopulated, having instead the status of a slum or shanty town.

Here's a view of the walled city as seen from the castle at Carcassone, with the church seen in profile on the skyline:-




The earliest church on the site dates back to the 6th century, with the Episcopal See transferred here in AD 925.  The structure which now stands upon the site is much later, with the nave of the building dating to the 12th century AD. 

The exterior is very hard to photograph, as it occupies a very narrow space.  The French, it seems, don't go for large rambling graveyards in urban contexts:-




Carcassone's violent medieval past is actually well-illustrated in this church.  The earlier, Romanesque, structure was contemporary with the rule of the Trenscheval family.  Following the bloody upheavals associated with the Albigensian Crusade, the church was extended and rebuilt.  According to my source, which is a very helpful xeroxed site plan and historical summary (in English, and available for the princely sum of 20 cents at the church), an architect/mason was moved here from northern France with instructions to replace the modest Romanesque church of the Trenscheval era with a much more grandiose structure in the Gothic style.

The original plan was to tear down the earlier church completely, and rebuild the whole structure.  But money ran short, and the scheme was reassessed.  The nave of the Romanesque church escaped demolition, and it has survived intact to the present day.

The church itself is quite odd.  Things don't exactly seem to be laid out the way you'd expect them.  Here's a very grand entrance, the kind of thing you'd expect on the west front, tucked away on the north side of the structure:-



The presence of some fragmentary springing from a vault to the left hand side of this feature makes me wonder if the location of this doorway may as much be due to the nineteenth century restoration work as anything else.  It just doesn't quite make sense.  Though perhaps this is what happens when you're a medieval mason charged with shoehorning a substantial building into a limited space in a flourishing city...

And lastly, a close up of the carving on the capitals.  If there's one thing they could do with spectacular aplomb in the Languedoc, it was Romanesque carving.  'Romanesque' was probably one of the overwhelming themes of the holiday - there was plenty of it, it was all breathtakingly spectacular and also in most cases extremely well-preserved.

So here's a taster:-


And  there'll be  plenty more to follow, I promise!!

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