Turrets and Saints: Montpellier Cathedral

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Cathedral of St Peter, Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, Montpellier, France

From the outside, the Cathedral of Montpellier is probably one of the most peculiar I’ve ever seen.  In fact, it really doesn’t look like it should be a cathedral, not least because the ecclesiastical building joins on almost seamlessly with the university building to its side.

And somehow, it does suit Montpellier.

The church was originally built in 1364, to serve the Monastery-College of Saint-Benoît Saint-Germain, founded by Pope Urban V.  It became a cathedral in 1536, when the seat of the bishop was transferred to Montpellier from the nearby – and scarcely populated – Maguelone.  The building was nicknamed “Fort Saint-Pierre” because of its defences, and the poor cathedral was forced to try and defend itself during the Wars of Religion, when it was targeted in Protestant attacks.  In 1561 it was looted and in 1562 its bells and iron gates were melted down to make ammunition to fight the Catholics who now besieged the city.  During a siege by Protestants in 1567, a tower collapsed and brought down the whole building.

The cathedral was rebuilt, but had major work done in the 1780s by Jean-Antoine Giral.  Further work was undertaken by Henri Antoine Revoil from 1855 to 1875, which included the rebuilding of the bell tower, and the addition of radiant chapels within the choir.  The windows, by Édouard Didron and Paul Nicod, date from 1870/2 and capture a medieval spirit while retaining a 19th century aesthetic.

In 1775, the bishop of Montpellier, Monsignor de Malide, commissioned the greatest organ builder of the time: Jean-François Lépine.  Since its creation in 1778, the organ has been regularly fixed and tweaked, with the most recent restoration being in 2011.  It is very dramatically lit, and has to be one of the more impressive organs around.

So In Summary

While it obviously isn’t one of France’s great old medieval cathedrals, this is a charming and very elegant building.  My photos really don’t do it justice because they’ve uploaded losing more detail than usual, but they give an idea of what to expect.  If you’re strapped for time, maybe it isn’t an absolute must-visit, but if you like old and simple churches I think you’d feel sorry about it afterwards.

Further Information

The website is in French and is more taken up with religious matters than touristic, but you can find out about opening hours etc:  www.cathedrale-montpellier.fr

How to Get There

The Cathedral is easy to get to if you’re exploring the old town of Montpellier.  However, a tram also stops right outside it. For local transport information, check out the local transport site (French only) – the link will take you to a map which shows the lines and bus stops: www.tam.cartographie.pro

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