IMG_2401You can see so much art for free in France–in all of Europe. Just walk into a church, the bigger the better, and amazing works will be in front of your nose, usually without crowds and almost always in wonderful silence. Aside from the really major attractions, like Notre Dame de Paris before the fire, you can wander in without lines. Sometimes there’s even mood music.IMG_2398You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the work for its quality. Back in the day, the Catholic church was a major benefactor of the arts. Maybe benefactor isn’t the right word–it was a major consumer/commissioner/purchaser/collector. Churches are chockfull of sculptures and paintings, and the buildings themselves are wonders of design.IMG_2363 2IMG_2366 2This is part two of my day trip to Narbonne. (Part one is here.) We’re going to explore le Cathedrale de Saint-Just et Saint-Pasteur, which is part of the same cluster of buildings as the city hall/former archbishops’ palace.

Jean de Seigneuret de Laborde (1607)

First, the name. Just and Pasteur were two Christian brothers who were martyred near Madrid around the year 304 (A.D., obviously) under the Diocletianic Persecution. The Roman Emperor Diocletian rescinded Christians’ rights and required them to make sacrifices to the Roman gods. Just and Pasteur, 12 and 9 years old, refused. There are multiple versions of their grisly deaths.

Note the panel on the bottom left. The tomb of S. Emi Guillaume Cardinal de Briçonnet, archbishop of Narbonne from 1507 to 1514.


The red stripe is a keep-out ribbon.

Pope Clément IV (born Gui Foucois but known as Guy le Gros–Fat Guy) decided in 1268 to build a fancy new cathedral in Narbonne, where he had previously been archbishop. Emphasis on the word fancy. The cathedral was started in 1272 in a gothic style. Only the choir was finished, around 1330. Remember that the vicious crusade against the Cathar heretics ran through the area in 1209, from the sacking of Béziers just north of Narbonne, to the surrender of Carcassonne just to the west; Narbonne, between them, was the headquarters of the Catholic forces. The bishop of Narbonne had been fairly tolerant of the Cathars, which led to him being fired in 1211. The crusade was lucrative for the church, which grabbed the land of dispossessed lords who had been linked to the Cathars. This led to the construction of a bunch of churches in the region, including the cathedral.

The choir. The organ is 23 meters (75 feet) tall, 12 meters (39 feet) wide and 14 meters (45 feet) above the ground. It was completed in 1741. The pews date to 1780.
The cathedral viewed from the top of the donjon.

The cathedral and the archbishops’ palace were built like fortifications, perhaps because they abutted the city wall. In fact, finishing the cathedral would have possibly required tearing down part of the wall, which might have been a factor in it not getting finished. The other reasons it wasn’t completed were the plague and economic decline of the city.

Big buttresses!

What they accomplished shows how ambitious the plans were. It’s still one of the tallest churches in France. But back to art.

The tomb of Jean de Seigneuret de Laborde (1607). His gloves are in the top photo. He would have been around at the time our apartments were built. To think…
Look at the details! The bow on his stocking. The lace of his skirt. The helmet. The folds of his boots.
How a piece of marble became this just astounds me.

There are tapestries and paintings and frescoes.

So, so old.

IMG_2369 2IMG_2380There’s a strong preoccupation with the afterlife. It was the cudgel raised over the the people, to keep them in line. Obey now or else you’ll be sorry later.

Souls headed to hell (the part under the statue).
Going to hell. You can make out commoners, bishops and kings. There was a new entrant today, in fact.

In good gothic style, the exterior is studded with gargoyles, impressively expressive.IMG_2358IMG_2359IMG_2360IMG_2361IMG_2364IMG_2368 2The stained glass windows offer more tableaux. I failed to zoom in, happy to just appreciate the play of light and color.IMG_2395IMG_2370Almost every surface is decorated.IMG_2396IMG_2397Doors upon doors upon doors.IMG_2409 2The cathedral and its archbishops’ palace rise above the plain like some kind of shipwreck, or an island, even a mountain. Not discreet in the least. Bold, daring. Declaring “yeah, we’re here. What about it?”

Do you visit churches? What do you like inside?IMG_2410

27 thoughts on “Living Marble and Other Marvels

  1. What a treat! Although it was only visual for me here at my computer, you would have enjoyed the coolness of the interior, the smoothness of the stone, the smells of antiquity, the hush of whispers or the strains of the organ. Thanks for my little art & history break!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That cathedral is so amazing!! Did you go and see the “treasure” room above the sacristy? It’s got one of those acoustics where you stand in one corner and talk to the wall, and the person in the opposite corner can hear every word, but nobody elsewhere in the room can!! Much used in times of plague for confessions, apparently.

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  3. My husband and I are ready to stop at any church or cathedral when we travel, it is a favorite thing for us. This summer we were able to see a Stave church in Norway. Thankfully we were able to visit Notre Dame a few years ago before the fire. Particularly at smaller places of worship we are sometimes able to talk with local people who have a firsthand history of the place. We love it all, peeling walls and murals, the statues, paintings, carved pulpits, inlaid floors, altars, stained glass, dedication plaques and if we are really lucky, a choir practicing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, choir practice is a big win. I remember passing through a village church in England decades ago and the bell ringers were practicing. It was funny/impressive to see them bob up and down.


  4. What a beautiful place indeed! And you are right, one of the things I love the most about Europe ( and I miss the most) is the ease to find old art, architecture almost everywhere. I ran across some remarkable churches, the cathedral in Siena Italy is the one that pops in my mind, mostly because it has a large library with old books besides an inlaid marble floor to die for. Notre Dame really impressed me with the peacefulness that I instantly felt inside, despite the fact that there were probably hundreds of people in there. But the one that brought tears to my eyes was the fresco of “The Last Supper” inside the Santa Maria Dell Grazie church in Milan. And I’m not even catholic.
    Thank you for a real treat, I just add Narbonne on my list.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s almost impossible for me to pass by a church, no matter how small. I love the feel of being inside old churches when we travel. Strangely, rarely do I venture into a church at home.

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  6. I will continue to recommend your site to all that appreciate such fine pictures and commentaries. We all learn so much from your viewpoints. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Holy Moly!! That is one amazing cathedral. Thank you for the excellent selection of vistas and especially for giving us multiple closeups of ol’ Jean on his tomb. It’s like magic, the way the stonemasons of old could transform cold hard rock into drapery and exquisite details. And those gargoyles!

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  8. Good evening! Again I say, I LOVE your BLOG! IT is my favorite of all that I read. I love your photos, attention to detail and the fact that I always learn something when coming here to read.

    This cathedral is beautiful and the art is fascinating.

    Have a wonderful weekend my dear.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. YES I DO when in EUROPE as the churches in the STATES ARE SO BORING!I am with YOU on the MARBLE and HOW DID THEY DO THAT!There seems NO ROOM to MAKE A MISTAKE!ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL…………..
    Still boggles my mind how they built so much so HIGH up without electric tools!
    Mounds of DIRT I guess we’re used……………….I read the DUOMO in FLORENCE was built that way!

    Liked by 1 person

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