Thursday, May 7, 2015

Caedite eos

On Monday April 20, Red Baron mounted a tour coach in Freiburg that took him on a seven day trip visiting the Kathedralen des Südens (the cathedrals down south), i. e., Gothic cathedrals in the south of France of Lyon, Vienne, Montpellier, Béziers, Narbonne, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Rodez, Clermont-Ferrand, Albi and more. The group comprised 21 persons, small enough to follow our guide without too much jostling. The guide, Peter Kalchthaler, a giant of historical and cultural knowledge, with whom I had visited the French cathedrals up north two years ago was the main reason why I took the trip.

Some of my compatriots consider Gothic style still as the typical German architecture although it has its origins in France. Gothic architecture slowly swept over the Rhine River so that the builders of Freiburg's Münster church only achieved erecting den schönsten Turm auf Erden (the most beautiful steeple in the world) when they had called in experts from the other side of the river bank.

In this blog Red Baron will neither dig into the details of Gothic architecture nor display all the photos taken of and in all the cathedrals visited. As usual I rather like to entertain my readers with curiosities and odd details.

I had my first surprise in Vienne when visiting the cathedral Saint Maurice. Pope Innocent IV consecrated the basilica that was built between 1052 and 1533 on April 20, 1251, so the building shows both Romanesque and Gothic style elements. When we were looking along the northern outer wall of the nave we noticed high above an arcade with Romanesque arches and below typical Gothic styled windows?? Well, apparently the original round-arched windows no longer pleased the people of the outgoing twelfth century so they replaced the Romanesque with Gothic windows.

An even greater surprise awaited Red Baron when entering the building. Looking from the altar down the aisle to the west front he noticed round arches built in the Romanesque period that were slightly pointed.

However, as the construction of the cathedral continued westward Gothic "arching" took over.

On a side altar: a reproduction of  Rembrandt's prodigal son
The still impressive west front of Saint Maurice lacks its sculptural decoration. During the French Wars of Religion iconoclastic Protestants destroyed all statues in 1562.

Magnificent Three Magi mutilated by iconoclasts. Note beheaded King Herod on the right and
the colored gown of one of the Magi. In the Middle Ages churches and statues were colored.

French restauroutes are clean places serving espresso from machines but croissants at a counter when they are not out.

Red Baron likes French words on -iste as there are populiste, oculiste (eye doctor), fumiste (stove fitter and bluffer), and he learned a new one: épaviste (somebody taking care of car wrecks).


Saint Pierre (©Vpe/Wikipedia)
In Montpellier we visited the cathedral Saint Pierre. The outside rather resembles a fortress than a church. In fact, during the religious wars in France the Protestants stormed "Fort Saint Pierre" in 1561 and 1567 killing the Catholics who had sought refuge in the cathedral. Inside the building two statues caught my eye:

Saint Roch born in Montpellier whose intercession is invoked in the case of plague. He was ministering at Piacenza in 1362 when the plague finally struck him. He was expelled from town and withdrew into the forest. There he was miraculously provided with spring water that arose in his place. A dog frequently visited him supplying him with bread, licking his wounds, and thus healing him.

The other statue I admired was Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney commonly known in English as St John Vianney, a French parish priest who is venerated in the Catholic Church as the patron saint of all priests. He is often referred to as the "Curé d'Ars"

Leaving the cathedral and passing the convent's palace, now occupied by the Faculté de Médecine à Montpellier, I noticed a sundial with a Greek inscription: "H TEXNH MAKPH" translated as "L'art is remaining". The man sitting in front of the entrance is Paul Joseph Barthez. Born in Montpellier he was a French physician, physiologist, and encyclopedist who developed a take on the biological theory known as vitalism.

Our group proceeded to Montpellier's arc of triumph showing the inscription: Ludovico magno LXXII annos regnante dissociatis repressis conciliatis gentibus quatuor decennali bello conjuratis pax terra marique parta 1715 (Louis the Great who had reigned for seventy-two years while the nations which betrayed the alliance were repressed and those which had been linked by the oath were reconciled brought peace to land and sea in 1715 after a forty years' war).

Let us be honest. Louis XIV was a warmonger and no serious historian attributes him the surname "Great". As a young man Louis stated: S'agrandir est la plus digne et la plus agréable occupation des souverains (Growth is the most worthy and enjoyable occupation of sovereigns).

I like le bon roi Henry IV better who survived the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, took power in converting as a Huguenot to Catholicism: Paris vaut bien une messe (Paris is well worth a Mass), and was crowned King of France at the Cathedral of Chartres in 1594. He not only promised his subjects a chicken in the pot on Sundays but he issued the Edict of Nantes, assuring religious peace in tolerating the Huguenots. Louis on the other hand destroyed it all in running France into bankruptcy, driving his subjects into poverty, and revoking the Edict of Nantes causing an enormous exodus of generally well educated Protestants (brain drain), e.g., to Prussia.


Béziers original cathedral dedicated to Saint Nazaire* was burned during the Albigensian Crusade in 1209. It collapsed on those who had taken refuge inside. Even worse was the burning of  heretics and Catholics alike who had taken refuge in a nearby church. When a soldier worried about killing people of orthodox and heretical confessions Abbot Arnaud Amalric, Papal Legate and leader of the crusaders against the Cathar stronghold of Béziers, advised him in Latin: Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius (Kill them all. For the Lord knoweth them that are His) thus helping the people changing their miserable lives for a place in heaven.
*Saint Nazaire, a Roman citizen, abandoned his belongings and decided to take the Gospel to the Gauls. He died in the year 56 when he was beheaded during the persecution of Christians under Emperor Nero.

Street sign in Langue d'oc: Land of Cathars

Matthew 13:55: Isn't this the carpenter’s son? Isn't his mother’s name Mary,
and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?
Saint Nazaire's triumph altar

Spolia in the walls of the cloisters

View from the bishop's garden on the old and the new bridge
spanning the river Orbe

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I also noticed the inscription in Montpelliers school of medicine. I think a better translation of it is by evoking the latin version, "Ars longa (vita brevis)", as you can see here:,_vita_brevis