Saintly Sojourn in the village of Plus Beau

Saintly Sojourn in a Plus Beau Village
February 8, 2023

Justin Postlethwaite wanders via the ages throughout a non secular escape within the beautiful village of Plus Beau in Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges within the Haute-Garonne.

There are few sacred edifices in France the place the evil stuffed crocodile hanging from the wall is maybe the least outstanding of its completely preserved property (cloister, oak stalls, organ, extra on that later). Nonetheless, the lifeless creepers, positioned vertically close to the baptismal font within the magnificent Notre-Dame cathedral in Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges (Haute-Garonne), lend an attention-grabbing form of exoticism to the anticipated austere environment.

The legendary crocodile on the cathedral wall © Justin Postlethwaite

Essentially the most believable—that’s, least fanciful—story of the crocodile’s return is that the animal was a trophy introduced by an area pilgrim from travels in Egypt; Different God-fearing accounts embody how St. Bertrand lured the beast—which prowled the native valleys, attractive its victims by imitating a crying child—to a church, the place the animal was overcome by the energy of Bertrand’s religion and have become as stiff as a board.

The village itself – about 120 kilometers from Toulouse and solely 30 kilometers from the ski and spa city of Luchon – deservedly boasts the well-known Plus Beau Village label. It was first awarded the honour in 2012, however was withdrawn in 2015 on the request of town council, then reintroduced in 2017. There is no such thing as a denying that it’s a gem of the Haute-Garonne division and an important field to mark for anybody strolling the South. French Piémont Path on the Method of Saint-Jacques de Compostelle (Method of Saint James) – the community of pilgrims’ mountaineering (or actually biking) trails that result in the shrine of St. James the Nice within the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain.

Saint-Simply de Valcabrère Church with the cathedral within the background © Shutterstock

From the street under on the Valcabrère plain, you will always remember your first glimpse of the looming cathedral (also called Sainte-Marie), set in opposition to its majestic Pyrenean backdrop. However first, earlier than heading up, get your digicam and wide-angle lens prepared and head to the village’s second Saint-Simply de Valcabrère Basilica. It is one of the vital spectacular Romanesque church buildings in all of Occitani and a UNESCO World Heritage website besides. Constructed on a pagan and Paleochristian necropolis and constructed partly utilizing stones, marble blocks, bas-reliefs, columns and capitals from the unique Roman metropolis of Lugdunum Convenarum positioned right here, it options a fantastic carved door and a easy and imposing sq. bell. Fourteenth century tower. No go to is full with no photograph alternative that places this church within the foreground with the mighty cathedral within the background.

Decrease village buildings contained in the Roman amphitheater © Shutterstock

The settlement of Lugdunum Convenarum was based in 72 BC by the Roman common Pompey, and its location between mountains and plains is right. Between 5,000 and 10,000 inhabitants (actual numbers are unknown) finally loved the total vary of facilities reminiscent of a theatre, temple within the discussion board, thermal baths, and an in depth market. A number of the ruins of the traditional website have been found from the Twenties onwards and might be seen as you head into the medieval village.

Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges is accessible by automotive (there are two free automotive parks – one within the decrease a part of the village, open all 12 months, and the second within the higher village, besides July and August) however is clearly solely totally explored on foot, Close by are the stonework, together with sections of the Gallo-Roman ramparts, and the Sixteenth-century homes, Colombia (Half-timbered) Constructions and Doorways of the Center Ages.

The charming backstreets of the village © Loïc Bel

Discovering the main points as you stroll via the maze of lanes imbued with historical past and environment is an actual deal with. The Majou Gate – the principle entrance to the village till the 18th century – with its watchtower on the second ground, which was later transformed into a jail, can’t be missed; the previous episcopal palace; and the record of taxable fish, dated 1661 and on the request of Louis XIV, inscribed on the Gate of Capirole. He tells us that on the native menu of the day weren’t solely river fish, reminiscent of trout, however cod from the ocean as nicely.

Tour guides can be found, offering perception and attention-grabbing anecdotes past the same old brochures and maps – simply head to the vacationer workplace (and cultural middle) at Les Olivétains, the previous convent within the shadow of the mighty cathedral. In the present day, though the village has solely about 250 inhabitants, it’s removed from being “rotten”, as author M.S. As a substitute, it is welcoming and relaxed, with a number of bijou cafés and reward retailers to cater to the various modern-day pilgrims and curious vacationers who go to. My recommendation is to exit within the low season if doable (as I did in February) simply to take pleasure in some respiration area and quiet as you are taking within the many memorable sights.

The cavernous inside of the cathedral © Manuel Huynh

The cathedral of the ages

We blast via historical past to the late eleventh century, the village’s second affect interval which stays very a lot its vacationer attraction to today. The arrival of Bertrand de L’Isle Jourdain – grandson of the Depend of Toulouse, Guillaume Telfer – as Bishop of Comingnes in 1083 noticed the constructing of the Romanchio cathedral and the abbey. Crucially, a number of miracles have been attributed to Bertrand, together with the aforementioned killing of the crocodile, that means that after his loss of life in 1123, the variety of pilgrims elevated.

The initially unassuming constructing was largely reworked in the course of the Gothic interval after which in the course of the Renaissance, and at present you may spend a number of hours exploring its many wonders – successfully experiencing three church buildings in a single. The magnificent stalls have 66 ‘extraordinary’ pews and one episcopal pew carved out of oak and have been constructed between 1525 and 1535 on the behest of Bishop Jean de Mollion, with the intention of isolating the canons from the fixed stream of pilgrims paying homage at St. Bertrand’s. Grave.

Exploring the monasteries © Loïc Bel

In the present day, you may spend a while gazing on the mausoleum – a large stone mausoleum embellished in his honour. Additionally pop into Sainte-Marguerite Chapel to see among the liturgical vestments and valuables of worship related to the saint. There’s an entry price if you wish to admire the wonderful carved element of biblical scenes on the stalls however visiting this chapel inside a church is kind of an expertise.

The identical bishop additionally commissioned the cathedral’s nice music-maker – at present thought of one of the vital stunning classical organs in Europe – tucked unusually in an angled nook (to equally serve parishioners and choir) behind the nave. Categorised as a Historic Monument since 1840, it’s elevated on 5 fluted columns, with carvings of rural scenes in addition to the Labors of Hercules. It’s the inspiration and most important focus of the lengthy annual summer season competition du Comminges, which attracts the perfect organists on this planet to play.

Lastly, head exterior for the last word non secular expertise at Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges as you enter the peace of the abbey, designed for the canons as a spot for prayer, assembly, and leisure. Three Romanesque sections and one Gothic body the courtyard – uncover the Column of the Evangelists, decorative capitals, and tombs of the canons. The south gallery gives views of the hillsides. From right here, ponder the historic weight of this magnificent cathedral and the plain attract of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges.

Hit the paths © Manuel Huynh

Welcome to the Pyrenees

If, this winter vacation season, you are searching for a family-friendly and cheaper various to an Alpine ski break, with glorious entry from the UK through Toulouse’s Blagnac Airport, the Haute-Garonne division has choices galore. Along with Luchon-Superbagnères – with its 32km of slopes that may be reached from town middle in simply eight minutes by gondola – there are additionally the gorgeous Peugeot resorts of Le Mourtis, Bourg d’Oueil and Peyragudes. Discover out extra at

In the meantime, for a refined and memorable meal, head to beautiful El Almacèn about 10 kilometers from Luchon within the village of Cirès within the Vallée d’Oueil. Right here you will discover ingenious and stylish wood-fired cooking with an earnest welcome from French and Argentinian couple Anne and Juan.

James Rhodes Montage © Wikimedia

A ghostly story from Comminges

Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges is the setting for Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook, an 1884 horror/ghost story by the distinguished scholar Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936), who was successively president of King’s Faculty, Cambridge, and Eton Faculty. The outline of the village on the time as “a decaying city on the spurs of the Pyrenees” is a far cry from the elegant and tidy Pilgrims’ choose of the day. On the one hand Dramatic characterThe spooky work encompasses a fictional character based mostly on a descendant of Bishop Jean de Mollion, who commissioned a lot of the beautiful woodwork contained in the cathedral. With because of reader Dr. Simon Cotton who alerted us to this work, which you’ll learn at no cost on-line. It’s also possible to hearken to a free audio play of labor on:

Tourism in Haute-Garonne:
Public entry to the cathedral is free, €7 permits entry to the choir and cloister.

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Predominant picture proprietor: The cathedral rises majestically out of the rocky panorama © Shutterstock

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