Our nearest big town is Auch and, although Auch Cathedral is not spectacular, it has some truly spectacular stained-glass windows (vitrail) and choir stalls (stalles / chœur). It’s a gothic cathedral which was begun in 1489 and completed towards the end of the 17th century. Above all it is the 18 windows of Arnaud de Moles and the 113 choir stalls, all of which depict biblical scenes (scènes bibliques) and characters, which are unforgettable.
Auch’s Cathedrale of Saint-Marie
The cathedral is perched on high ground to the west of the River Gers and it dominates the town. It doesn’t matter where you are in Auch, some part of the cathedral is visible.
The stained-glass windows of Arnaud de Moles
The 18 stained-glass windows of Arnaud de Moles were made between 1507 and 1513, meaning that light (la lumière) has shone through them and amazed people for more than 500 years. Although they were created in the Renaissance period, they reflect a style of the Middle Ages.
These windows tell the story of the Bible, beginning with the creation and the Garden of Eden and leading on to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. They are full of characters from the Bible and from Greek and Roman mythology.
The windows are made of unusually strongly-coloured glass, especially in the primary colours (couleurs primaires) of red, green and blue. It is not difficult to imagine the effect that seeing these images would have had on people 500 years ago.
During the Second World War, the windows were dismantled (démantelé) and taken to a place of safety (lieu de sûreté). After the war, they were returned to their original positions, without a single breakage.
A program of restoration (restauration) has recently been announced which aims to repair the effects of pollution and ageing (vieillissement) on these 18 windows. The project is estimated to cost 2 million euros, which will amount to around 110,000 euros per window.
Auch Cathedral’s choir stalls
The other remarkable thing about Auch cathedral is its choir stalls. They consist of about 1,500 different designs, inspired by the Bible, the lives of saints and nature. They were carved from oak (chêne) which had been laid in the nearby River Gers to harden it and make it better for carving.
The museum of the cathedral’s treasures
To the site of the cathedral is a separate museum (entry fee payable) that displays some 200 objects of religious art, including paintings and various liturgical objects of value.
There is an excellent standard of display, supported by multi-lingual tablet apps and interactive touch-screens.