The Basilica of St. Sernin is a former abbey church in Toulouse. Apart from the church, none of the abbey buildings remain. The current church is located on the site of a previous basilica of the 4th century which contained the body of Saint Saturnin or Sernin, the first bishop of Toulouse in c. 250. Constructed in the Romanesque style between about 1080 and 1120, with construction continuing thereafter, Saint-Sernin is the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe. The church is particularly noted for the quality and quantity of its Romanesque sculpture. In 1998 the basilica was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site (part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France).
On the exterior, the bell tower, standing directly over the transept crossing, is the most visible feature. It is divided into five tiers, of which the lower three, with Romanesque arches, date from the 12th century and the upper two from the 14th century. The spire was added in the 15th century. The bell tower is slightly inclined towards the west direction, which is why from certain standpoints the bell tower roof, whose axis is perpendicular to the ground, appears to be inclined to the tower itself.
The chevet is the oldest part of the building, constructed in the 11th century, and consists of nine chapels, five opening from the apse and four in the transepts.
The exterior is additionally known for two doorways, the Porte des Comtes and the Porte des Miégeville. Above the Porte des Comtes is a depiction of Lazarus and Dives. Dives in hell can be seen above the central column. The doorway gets its name from a nearby alcove in which the remains of four Counts of Toulouse are kept. The Porte des Miégeville is known for its elaborate sculpture above the entrance.
The interior of the basilica measures 115 x 64 x 21 meters, making it vast for a Romanesque church. The central nave is barrel vaulted; the four aisles have rib vaults and are supported by buttresses. Directly under the tower and the transept is a marble altar, consecrated by Pope Urban II in 1096 and designed by Bernard Gelduin.
As well as Saint Saturnin, Saint Honoratus is also buried here. The crypt contains the relics of many other saints.
The basilica also contains a large three-manual Cavaillé-Coll organ built in 1888. Together with the Cavaillé-Coll instruments at Saint-Sulpice in Paris and the Church of St. Ouen, Rouen, it is considered to be one of the most important organs in France.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).