Postcard from Toulouse, France: Centuries of alterations craft a catawampus cathedral

Cathedrale Saint Etienne de Toulouse

The approach makes it obvious. The Cathedral dedicated to Saint Stephen (5-33 A.D.) in Toulouse is the product of numerous architects over numerous centuries. And the interior is equally as cobbled together, held together by a column so inartistically enormous in circumference that I neglected to take its picture. But those incongruities make it all the more interesting to explore.

The first church buried underneath all of this brick dated from the 3rd century and was later topped by a Romanesque cathedral. At the beginning of the 13th century, an expanded French Gothic nave was completed in the regional “flavor” known as Raymondine, for Raymond VI, the Count of Toulouse. Raymond VI (1152-1222) was a key player in the constant tug of war, actually wars, waged for control between the King of France and King Henry II of England and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. And also the Holy Roman Emperor and Alfonso II of Aragon. Alliances were complicated and always shifting.

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Postcard from Toulouse, France: A basilica with great bones

Above: Reliquary in the Basilica of Saint Sernin

Most people reading this headline would assume I’m talking about religious architecture, but those definitely are not the only bones on my mind. This does not mean that the architecture of the Basilica of Saint Sernin is not amazing; it is. So, we’ll just get those bones out of the way first.

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Postcard from Bordeaux, France: Churches, saints and bones for All Saints and Souls

Above, a carving of Saint Michel slaying the dragon tops the baldaquin in the Basilica dedicated to the Archangel.

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent called the Devil, and Satan which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

Book of Revelation, Chapter 12

This part-time boulevardier does not just spend her time “going cafe to cabaret,” as Joni Mitchell sang, she goes to church. Well, sort of. That part of Mass, communion and particularly confession are all avoided. But I do visit tons of churches, appreciative of their architecture, art, role in history and stories of saints and miracles.

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