Sunday, August 01, 2010


Yesterday, the city of Albi on The Tarn River in the Haute Garrone in South Western France was officially named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I was pleased because I have always loved to visit Albi. The town itself is a very homogenous blend of red brick buildings. The red brick was used because the region doesn't have limestone and the sandstone quarried there is very soft.

The city is very important in a historical sense and the story of the Albigeois Crusade is
one of the episodes that made the power of the Catholic Church and unified France as a nation. Albi was a center of the Cathar Religion and it was brutally suppressed. The supression of the Cathars gave France a reason to crush the independant Counts who ruled the region. In fact, French was not spoken in the region at the time, it was another language, Occitan. The southwestern region of France is still referred to Langedoc. Oc is the word that meant yes. In recent years after centuries of suppression. Occitanian culture is enjoying a revival. There are even OC rock and rap records. Here, where I live, many of the old people still speak it. It was a regional language, written, but as a spoken tongue, it varied greatly because it was always local dialects.

When the Catholic Church and the French of the North vanquished the Cathars, to establish their presence and might, they built The Cathedral of Ste. Cecile. It was started in the late 13th century and finished in the 15th. It is perhaps the largest brick structure in the world. It is a regional gothic style. The brick construction made it possible to eliminate the buttresses and supports, the effect is brute force, almost industrial, but in spite of this, For me, it is one of the most awe inspiring buildings I have ever seen.
Inside the stark bulding, the incredible open space is one of most wildly painted places I have ever seen. There is a rood screen carved of limestone that is indescribable.
The altar painting was reputedly art directed by Bosch and is considered to be the largest composed painting in the world. The organ is the 3rd largest in France.
There is so much more in Albi, Toulouse-Lautrec was a native and the best collection of his work is in the museum in the Bishops Palace, below the cathedral on the River.
I can recommend some great restaurants if you are going to visit. For now, perhaps, if you'd like, here is a recital on the huge organ with some pictures of the site. The musician is Francis Chapelet and he is playing a modern impressionistic improvisation.


Engineer of Knowledge said...

Hello Microdot,
I have always had a special spot for Albi and the Cathars since I started reading about their history years ago. I loved the photo and video clip.

I have always loved your input and local French flavor of your blog these many years.

I would love to get my wife to France one day. Maybe after my last one is finished college.

Engineer of Knowledge said...

There was a good progam on PBS today on the Cathars. One source was a book by Charmaine Craig, "THE GOOD MEN."

mud_rake said...

I believe my historic roots are twisted with this area of France and thus I, too, feel attracted to this church and the terrible religious nonsense that unfolded here.

microdot said...

There are very few surviving manuscripts of the Cathar Religion.
The Catholics did a pretty good job of collecting and burning almost everything.
There is a surviving tradition. We were surprised to see in a book on the history of our old village, Ajat, here in he Dordogne that as late as 1900 there were people who registered thir religion as Cathar.
A very good book to get a feeling for the persecution and the persistance of Catharism is Montaillou, The Promised Land of Error by La Roy Ladurie.
It's interesting because it centers around one Cathar priest and his social and sexual history and in the process reveals much.

By the way, my computer is acting very strangely and knows that something is up....
It's going to be replaced in a few weeks!

mud_rake said...

I'll look into the book. I read the summary at Amazon and it is right down my alley for sure.