Church of the Jacobins

Toulouse, France

The Church of the Jacobins is a large brick building whose construction started in 1230, and whose architecture influenced the development of the southern Gothic style. The relics of Thomas Aquinas are housed there. In the two centuries following the dissolution of the Dominican Order at the time of the French Revolution it served various different purposes before undergoing major restoration in the 20th century. In the early 21st century it is a museum.

The name Jacobins is the nickname that was given to the Dominican Order in the Middle Ages. Their first convent in Paris was located in the rue Saint-Jacques, (Latin Jacobus), and that name came to be attached to the order itself.

In Languedoc in the early 13th century, Catharism, which the Catholic Church considered a heresy, was strong and growing. In 1215, the future Saint Dominic founded in Toulouse a small community of monastic preachers to combat the heresy, and starting in 1230, the monks began the construction of a small church in which to preach. Built entirely of pink Roman brick, this first building was half as long and half as high as the present church, and very simple in design, in line with the order’s vow of poverty. It consisted of a double nave, one side for the monks, and one for the congregation, separated by pillars and screens.

Over the next century, as congregations grew, the church was enlarged and embellished. Between 1245 and 1252, it was extended with the addition of a choir with side chapels. Between 1275 and 1292, the height of the choir was increased, and a vaulted roof constructed. In response to the technical difficulty posed by creating a vaulted roof for the new space, the builders installed one oversized column in the centre from which the ribs radiated outwards in all directions. This feature has come to be known as Le Palmier des Jacobins, the palm tree of the Jacobins.

Between 1275 and 1315, the height of the choir was increased, and high windows created above the chapels. The seven-storey bell tower was also added at this time. Starting in 1325, a new, higher vaulted roof was constructed for the nave in order to bring it into line with the choir. The last component of the century-long expansion of the church was the construction of the chapel of Saint Antonin (separate from the church itself), between 1335 and 1341.

Following the French Revolution of 1789, the Dominican order was banned, and the monks forced to leave. In 1804 the conventual complex including the church became the property of the city of Toulouse, and in 1810 the emperor Napoleon requisitioned the church and converted it into a barracks. Floors were installed to create upper storeys for dormitories, while stables and an armoury occupied the ground floor. During the period the building served as a barracks, the stained glass windows were destroyed, and the medieval paintings in the choir were painted over with whitewash.

Citizens who were appalled at the destruction succeeded in 1861 in convincing the army to move to new barracks. In succeeding years, the building housed an exhibition of Arts and Industries (1865), served as a playground for the pupils of the nearby Lycée Fermat starting in 1872, and as a place to safely store treasures from the museums of Paris during World War I.

Several periods of restoration work were undertaken over the course of the 20th century. In 1905 the floors installed by the army were removed; starting in 1923 blocked windows were uncovered and stained glass installed; between 1953 and 1963 the chapels were reconstructed; and between 1965 and 1974 the whitewash covering the medieval murals was removed. Today it functions as a museum.

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Details

Founded: 13th century
Category: Religious sites in France
Historical period: Late Capetians (France)

More Information

en.wikipedia.org

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User Reviews

Dwayne Rodrigues (16 months ago)
Amazing place to visit. Nice ancient architecture
Tenzin Yonten (18 months ago)
Any place of prayer is something that calms the mind, in my opinion. The is a true oasis in the city. Come early in the morning or late in the day to see glorious light flooding through the windows. The cathedral and its cloister is a wondrous place with its incredible architecture and dedication to prayer. It will leave a mark when you step out of the door and back into the streets.
Sara Vendrell (18 months ago)
It's a wonderful, quiet place right in the middle of Toulouse. The entry is free and it is so worth spending time there. The cloister is quite beautiful and the old church is amazing.
Franklin Miranda (2 years ago)
Very impressive structure with a nice garden on the inside. Nice place to come out for pictures. Although vast open space on the inside of the church there is not much to see.
Alexander Westerman (2 years ago)
The church itself is an architectural wonder. There is a mirror set up where you can observe the ceiling which is marvelous. The golden shrine of St. Thomas Aquinas is the center of the building. It is sparsely furnished but because of this you can observe more of the actual building construction and the original paint remnants. A church worth seeing if you are in Toulouse.
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