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Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges

Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges is a commune in the Haute-Garonne department in southwestern France.

The great mediaeval scholar and ghost story writer M. R. James used Saint-Bertrand, and more particularly, its cathedral, as a setting for his classic tale of terror "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book", which can be found in the collection Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904).

History

In 72 B.C. the Roman General Pompey, while on the way back to Rome after a military campaign in Spain founded a Roman colony there. The goal was to defend the passage to the Aran Valley and the Iberian peninsula. The colony was named Lugdunum Convenarum and had reached around 30,000 people at its highest point. In 408 the Vandals sacked the city and forced the peasantry to move to the citadel and in 585 the Burgundians, led by Gunther, entirely razed the site in the course of their pursuit of Gundoald. It would remain deserted for nearly five centuries.

In 1083 a knight related to the Counts of Toulouse, Bertrand de l'Isle-Jourdain, canon of Saint Augustine in Toulouse, was nominated bishop of Comminges. He ordered the construction of the cathedral and of the Romanesque Cloister. The place became used by pilgrims as a stage on the route to Santiago de Compostela.

Bertrand de l'Isle was canonised and became known as Saint-Bertrand in the XIIIth century and Lugdunum Convenarum became known as Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges. The term Comminges itself comes from the Latin word "Convenae", meaning "those who came together" at Pompey's new settlement.

Landmarks and landscapes

Aside of the cathedral the village has a Romanesque Basilica as well as a Roman ruins. There is an archeological site close to the Cathedral in which it is possible to identify the remains of a Roman thermae and of a theatre.

The village itself is a medieval one, with several arches and vaults. It has several gates entering it, on the Cabirole Gate it is possible to read about the taxe set by Louis XIV on fishes. Another gate, the Majou Gate, is interesting in that it is the one pilgrims used. Following the ramparts it is possible to observe the Matacan Rock from which, according to the legend, Gondowald had been executed by Gunther.

The Cathedral

Entering the nave people will see three distinct architectural style at the same time:

  • The Romanesque part of the XIIth century.
  • The Gothic part of the XIVth century commissioned by Bertrand de Goth.
  • And the Renaissance part as well as the organ from the XVIth century.

The narthex ends by two huge pillars with a circumference of no less than 11,45m. Over the northern and southern walls one can see the Romanesque arches, the floors is made of marbles and includes some tombs and sepultures. The choir is also clearly romanesque and offers an impressive view over the entire valley.

The Gothic part is built in the Meridional Gothic style. There is a single nave that is 55m long, 16m wide and 28m tall. Over the arrow arches there are "coat of arms" from the founding bishops. The stained glasses are impressive by their level of details, almost comparable to those of Auch.

The stalls within the choir were commissioned by Jean de Mauléon but because of the lack of documents it is impossible to name the artist that made them. Although and by comparison with other stalls it is often considered it was the work of Nicolas Bachelier, or rather of his school which had been using artists from France, Spain and Italy. Most of the work had been done in oak and walnut tree, the choir seems cut from the rest of the church contrasting so much with the gothic and romanesque parts.

The sixty-seven stalls represent characters from both the old and the new testament, including scenes like: temptation, envy and lust.

Inside the sanctuary it is possible to see some representations of the chanson de geste the Song of Roland, with Oliver clearly represented.

There is a stuffed crocodile inside the cathedral.

External links

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