Turrets and Saints: Montpellier Cathedral

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.

Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

The distinctive turrets of the Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

The tiny square in front of the Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

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.

An angel appears to St Joseph, 1664, Nicolas Mignard, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

Chapel of the Virgin, with the statue by Emilio Santarelli, and the dove above it by François-Xavier Fabre, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

The Virgin and Child with an Angel, 1762, Jean Coustou, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

View down the nave of the Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

Impressive candelabra in the Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

A side chapel, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

Beautiful lines, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

Delicate stained glass, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

View over the high altar, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

Statue of St Peter, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

Harmonious interior of Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

The Fall of Simon the Magician, 1658, Sébastien Bourdon, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

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.

Looking towards the organ, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

The organ and its strange shadows, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

Awesome reflection of the stained glass on the floor of the Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

Chapel of the Bishops, with the tomb of Monseigneur de Cabrières, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

An altar to St Roch, Cathedral of St Peter, Montpellier, France

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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