An hour south of us, the foothills of the Pyrénées mountains provide a majestic backdrop for the commune of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges and its former cathédrale Sainte Marie. The foothills are densely wooded and in spring are as fine a green as there is.
A historic site
A Roman colony was established in 72 BC by Pompey, as he returned from Spain, and eventually supported a population of perhaps 30,000. Vandals destroyed the city in 408 AD, and Burgundians destroyed it again in 585.
In 1083 Bertrand de l'Isle-Jourdain was created the bishop of Comminges and it was he who ordered the construction of the cathedral and its Romanesque cloister. It subsequently became a key point on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. Bertrand was canonised in the 13th, becoming Saint Bertrand. His staff (or crosier) made of the tusk of a narwhale is on display inside the cathedral.
The Cathedral of the Pyrénées
The original church is a 12th century Romanesque building which was extended into a Gothic church in the 14th century, then embellished in the 16th century in the Renaissance style. Encircled by houses from the Middle Ages, but commanding a flat river valley overlooked by serious mountains, the place itself is exquisite.
The cloisters are built on the south side of the cathedral and their south wall is open to the Pyrénées. Apparently, this is where Saint Bertrand planned for his community of monks to have their place of prayer. Because the foothills that are visible from these cloisters remain undeveloped today, it is relatively easy to imagine this scene 800 years ago.
The wooden church inside a stone church
The 16th century choir inside the cathédrale is so richly-decorated that it is sometimes referred to as the wooden church within a stone church. Made of oak and walnut, it contains 67 stalls that represent characters from the Old and New Testaments.
The cathedral at Saint-Bertrand is the fruit of 800 years of history. It is rare that such work has been so well spared major damage for so long a period of time.
One of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France
The village is a member of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France so it is not just the cathédrale that is worth visiting. But don't miss it: it is truly astonishing!