Originally Lodève Cathedral was dedicated to Saint Genesius of Arles, who was a martyr of the Diocletian persecution, and was beheaded in 303 (his martyrdom is represented on the keystone of the vault of the apse). Since 1410 the cathedral has been dedicated to Saint Fulcran, who as bishop of Lodève restored the cathedral in the 10th century.
Some traces of previous buildings are preserved in the crypt. The first cathedral from the time of the foundation of the diocese towards the end of the 4th century remains unknown. Some capitals of the 6th to the 8th centuries, now in the Musée Fleury, imply building from the time of the rule of the Visigoths. The exterior walls of the crypt also seem to date from that period. In the 10th century Saint Fulcran had the cathedral either rebuilt or extended, and reconsecrated it in 975. The doubling of the crypt walls towards the exterior and its vault were part of this structure.
The cathedral is a typical Gothic building of the south of France, majestic and austere, reflecting the stylistic influence of the Mendicant orders. A choir consisting of a single, extremely broad, nave, and a polygonal apse of nine bays lit by nine Gothic windows 12 metres high, is extended to the west by a nave of three aisles. The main portal, richly ornamented, is located in the middle of the north side, under a porch.
The Gothic structure was begun with the apse in about 1265/1270. During the later 1270s and the early 1280s, the two eastern bays of the northern side of the nave were built, as well as the adjacent chapel of Saint Fulcran, the portal and its porch. The choir was vaulted, and temporarily closed off so that it could be used for services.
In a next phase of about 1295/1300 the north side was completed, with the chapel of Saint Martin (now the chapel of Saint Roch), and work on the south side was begun with the Lady Chapel and the chapel of Saint Michael, above which was built a belltower over 57 metres high, which also served as a watch-tower. This was finished in about 1320.
During the rule of bishop Bernard Gui (1324-1331), formerly Grand Inquisitor, construction halted because of financial difficulties. The north and south sides were not completed and vaulted until about 1345, when the lower half of the western front was also erected. Several epidemics of the Black Death followed by the Hundred Years' War interrupted further work, and the façade was not finished until sometime between 1413 and 1430, and fortified with a chemin de ronde and bartizans. The principal nave was vaulted at the same time. Towards the end of the 15th century the chapel of Saint Fulcran was enlarged and a baptistry added to the south-west.
During the French Wars of Religion the cathedral was looted and severely damaged. Protestant troops blew up the four great pillars of the nave, causing the collapse of the arcades, the clerestory and the vaulting of the nave roof. The only parts that remained intact were the choir, the outside walls of the nave and the side-chapels. It was Bishop Jean VI de Plantavit de la Pause (1625-1648) who had the destroyed parts of the building restored as they had been.
In the French Revolution the cathedral was desecrated and used as a storage depot. In the 19th and 20th centuries a number of restorations were carried out, including the reinforcement of the buttresses, the replacement of the original plaster and the reopening of blocked windows. Finally a stone roof was added to the belltower.
The belltower is decorated with four large statues in high relief, representing the saints venerated in the diocese: Saint Michael the Archangel; Saint Genesius of Arles, the first patron of the cathedral; either Saint Florus, the legendary first bishop of Lodève and the apostle of the Auvergne, or Saint Amand, bishop of Rodez; and Saint Fulcran, bishop of Lodève in the 10th century and the present patron of the cathedral. The cathedral building is also ornamented with quantities of sculpted brackets, capitals and gargoyles. The tympanum over the portal is Gothic revival.
Because of the devastations of war, none of the original fittings and furnishings have survived. In the chapel of Saint Michael is the monument of Bishop Plantavit de la Pause (about 1650). The walls of the choir are decorated by eight enormous wall-hangings of the 17th and 18th centuries, by Sébastien Bourdon, J. Coustou and Étienne Loys. The stained glass windows of the apse date from 1854 and are by the artist Mauvernay. The wooden pulpit supported by four atlantes (Cain, Holophernes, Herod and Judas) dates from 1867, when it was displayed at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. The polychrome organ loft is a masterpiece of Rococo work, one of the most impressive in the south of France. It stands on a vast platform of stone with a beautiful balustrade of wrought iron, and was built in 1754 by Jean-François L'Epine. The original instrument was rebuilt in 1882 by Théodore Puget of Toulouse.References:
Notre-Dame de Reims (Our Lady of Reims) is the seat of the Archdiocese of Reims, where the kings of France were crowned. The cathedral replaced an older church, destroyed by fire in 1211, that was built on the site of the basilica where Clovis was baptized by Saint Remi, bishop of Reims, in AD 496. That original structure had itself been erected on the site of some Roman baths. A major tourism destination, the cathedral receives about one million visitors annually.
Excavations have shown that the present building occupies roughly the same site as the original cathedral, founded c. 400 under the episcopacy of St Nicaise. That church was rebuilt during the Carolingian period and further extended in the 12th century. On 19 May 1051, King Henry I of France and Anne of Kiev were married in the cathedral.
On May 6, 1210 the cathedral was damaged by fire and reconstruction started shortly after, beginning at the eastern end. Documentary records show the acquisition of land to the west of the site in 1218, suggesting the new cathedral was substantially larger than its predecessors, the lengthening of the nave presumably being an adaptation to afford room for the crowds that attended the coronations. In 1233 a long-running dispute between the cathedral chapter and the townsfolk (regarding issues of taxation and legal jurisdiction) boiled over into open revolt. Several clerics were killed or injured during the resulting violence and the entire cathedral chapter fled the city, leaving it under an interdict (effectively banning all public worship and sacraments). Work on the new cathedral was suspended for three years, only resuming in 1236 after the clergy returned to the city and the interdict was lifted following mediation by the King and the Pope. Construction then continued more slowly. The area from the crossing eastwards was in use by 1241 but the nave was not roofed until 1299 (when the French King lifted the tax on lead used for that purpose). Work on the west facade took place in several phases, which is reflected in the very different styles of some of the sculptures. The upper parts of the facade were completed in the 14th century, but apparently following 13th century designs, giving Reims an unusual unity of style.
Unusually the names of the cathedral's original architects are known. A labyrinth built into floor of the nave at the time of construction or shortly after (similar to examples at Chartres and Amiens) included the names of four master masons (Jean d'Orbais, Jean-Le-Loup, Gaucher de Reims and Bernard de Soissons) and the number of years they worked there, though art historians still disagree over who was responsible for which parts of the building. The labyrinth itself was destroyed in 1779 but its details and inscriptions are known from 18th century drawings. The clear association here between a labyrinth and master masons adds weight to the argument that such patterns were an allusion to the emerging status of the architect (through their association with the mythical artificer Daedalus, who built the Labyrinth of King Minos). The cathedral also contains further evidence of the rising status of the architect in the tomb of Hugues Libergier (d. 1268, architect of the now-destroyed Reims church of St-Nicaise). Not only is he given the honor of an engraved slab; he is shown holding a miniature model of his church (an honor formerly reserved for noble donors) and wearing the academic garb befitting an intellectual.
The towers, 81 m tall, were originally designed to rise 120m. The south tower holds just two great bells; one of them, named “Charlotte” by Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine in 1570, weighs more than 10,000 kg.
During the Hundred Years' War the cathedral was under siege by the English from 1359 to 1360. After it fell the English held Reims and the Cathedral until 1429 when it was liberated by Joan of Arc which allowed the Dauphin Charles to be crowned king on 17 July 1429.
In 1875 the French National Assembly voted £80,000 for repairs of the façade and balustrades. The façade is the finest portion of the building, and one of the great masterpieces of the Middle Ages.
German shellfire during the opening engagements of the First World War on 20 September 1914 burned, damaged and destroyed important parts of the cathedral. Scaffolding around the north tower caught fire, spreading the blaze to all parts of the carpentry superstructure. The lead of the roofs melted and poured through the stone gargoyles, destroying in turn the bishop's palace. Images of the cathedral in ruins were used during the war as propaganda images by the French against the Germans and their deliberate destruction of buildings rich in national and cultural heritage. Restoration work began in 1919, under the direction of Henri Deneux, a native of Reims and chief architect of the Monuments Historiques; the cathedral was fully reopened in 1938, thanks in part to financial support from the Rockefellers, but work has been steadily going on since.
The three portals are laden with statues and statuettes; among European cathedrals, only Chartres has more sculpted figures. The central portal, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is surmounted by a rose window framed in an arch itself decorated with statuary, in place of the usual sculptured tympanum. The 'gallery of the kings' above shows the baptism of Clovis in the centre flanked by statues of his successors.
The facades of the transepts are also decorated with sculptures. That on the North has statues of bishops of Reims, a representation of the Last Judgment and a figure of Jesus (le Beau Dieu), while that on the south side has a modern rose window with the prophets and apostles. Fire destroyed the roof and the spires in 1481: of the four towers that flanked the transepts, nothing remains above the height of the roof. Above the choir rises an elegant lead-covered timber bell tower that is 18 m tall, reconstructed in the 15th century and in the 1920s.
The interior comprises a nave with aisles, transepts with aisles, a choir with double aisles, and an apse with ambulatory and radiating chapels. It has interesting stained glass ranging from the 13th to the 20th century. The rose window over the main portal and the gallery beneath are of rare magnificence.
The cathedral possesses fine tapestries. Of these the most important series is that presented by Robert de Lenoncourt, archbishop under François I (1515-1547), representing the life of the Virgin. They are now to be seen in the former bishop's palace, the Palace of Tau. The north transept contains a fine organ in a flamboyant Gothic case. The choir clock is ornamented with curious mechanical figures. Marc Chagall designed the stained glass installed in 1974 in the axis of the apse.
The treasury, kept in the Palace of Tau, includes many precious objects, among which is the Sainte Ampoule, or holy flask, the successor of the ancient one that contained the oil with which French kings were anointed, which was broken during the French Revolution, a fragment of which the present Ampoule contains.
Notre-Dame de Reims cathedral, the former Abbey of Saint-Remi, and the Palace of Tau were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1991.