The Three Faces of God: Treasures of Narbonne Cathedral

The Cathedral Treasury, Le Tresor de la Cathedrale, Narbonne, France

When visiting the beautiful cathedral of Narbonne and the museums in the adjacent palaces, you can also enter the tiny Treasury museum.  What it lacks in size, it makes up for in the quality of a couple of items which almost make the town worth visiting by themselves.

The Treasury is located on the first floor of the Annonciade Chapel and as you go up the stairs, you get an interesting view down into the chapel.  The museum is in the old Chapter Room, constructed in the 15th century, and boasting a vaulted brick ceiling which is its main claim to fame –  a person standing in one corner of the room (by the fan-like section lit up in the picture below) can speak very quietly, and be heard very clearly in the opposite corner.  The magic is that no one in the middle of the room hears a thing, naturally.  It didn’t work for me, so presumably you have to pitch your whisper just right and some kids were having a whale of a time with it, so that can keep them quiet as you look at the objects on show.

 

The Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Echoing ceiling, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Apart from that, there are some very interesting objects on show, which most visitors seemed to ignore when we visited…   Still, Sister-Chickpea and I appreciated this little collection and hopefully you will too.

Armorial of the Archdeacon, 1780, silk and straw, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France.  Straw was sometimes used to imitate gold thread – and the workmanship on this panel was exquisite.

Detail of the armorial of the Archdeacon, 1780, silk and straw, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Fresco of Christ, 14th century, choir of the Cathedral, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Figure from the tomb of Philippe III, 1st half of the 14th century, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France.  Philippe III of France died in Perpignan, but he was buried in Narbonne in 1285. He was the first King of France to be divided, dilaceratio corporis.

Detail of the Crucifixion from the Glorious Cross, beginning of 9th century, Aix-la-Chapelle, from the entourage of Charlemagne, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of the Last Supper from the The Glorious Cross, beginning of 9th century, Aix-la-Chapelle, from the entourage of Charlemagne, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of the Ascension from the Glorious Cross, beginning of 9th century, Aix-la-Chapelle, from the entourage of Charlemagne, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of God’s hand sending out rays, from the Glorious Cross, beginning of 9th century, Aix-la-Chapelle, from the entourage of Charlemagne, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of the Betrayal of Jesus (left) and the Women at the Tomb (right), from the Glorious Cross, beginning of 9th century, Aix-la-Chapelle, from the entourage of Charlemagne, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

The pyxis of Ismail, c1030, Cuenca, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France.  With the transcription, “Benediction de Dieu. Fait en la vile de Cuenca pour le tresor du Hajib, Qaid des Qaid, Ismail” The Qaid was a military chief and the governor. Stylistic analysis suggests it’s by Muhammad ibn Zayyan, and possibly for the chief berber, Ismail al-Zafir.

Detail of the reliquary box of the martyrs of Caunes, 1391, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

The end of the reliquary box of the martyrs of Caunes, 1391, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

A figure from the Trinity, 15th century, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

The most magnificent item on show, however, is the 15th century Flemish tapestry of the ‘Creation of the World’.  Originally it was part of a 10-piece set which decorated the cathedral, but all the others in the series were destroyed during the French Revolution.  This is a real tragedy, because this was one of the most beautiful tapestries I’ve ever seen.  The faces are woven with such delicacy they look painted, and the composition looks like it’s been lifted from an adorable Flemish altarpiece.  My pictures don’t remotely do justice to its quality of design and workmanship – it was just wonderful.

Detail of the Trinity before a heavenly choir, from The Creation, c1490-1500, attributed to Colijn de Coter, Brussels, silk, wool and gold, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of the Trinity floating, from The Creation, c1490-1500, attributed to Colijn de Coter, Brussels, silk, wool and gold, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of the Trinity standing before some trees, from The Creation, c1490-1500, attributed to Colijn de Coter, Brussels, silk, wool and gold, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of the Trinity looking aloft, from The Creation, c1490-1500, attributed to Colijn de Coter, Brussels, silk, wool and gold, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of a beautiful sun, from The Creation, c1490-1500, attributed to Colijn de Coter, Brussels, silk, wool and gold, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

The Trinity before a heavenly choir, from The Creation, c1490-1500, attributed to Colijn de Coter, Brussels, silk, wool and gold, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of ducks, from The Creation, c1490-1500, attributed to Colijn de Coter, Brussels, silk, wool and gold, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of coy animals from The Creation, c1490-1500, attributed to Colijn de Coter, Brussels, silk, wool and gold, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of Adam and Eve, from The Creation, c1490-1500, attributed to Colijn de Coter, Brussels, silk, wool and gold, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of Adam and Eve and the serpent, from The Creation, c1490-1500, attributed to Colijn de Coter, Brussels, silk, wool and gold, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

Detail of the Expulsion from Eden, from The Creation, c1490-1500, attributed to Colijn de Coter, Brussels, silk, wool and gold, Cathedral Treasury, Narbonne, France

So In Summary

The highlight of the collection is the tapestry, but there are other impressive items to admire.  Most people came in and went out again pretty sharpish.  Well, the objects are liturgical, and there isn’t a lot there, but I found it worthwhile.  It’s a personal thing.  Since it’s included on the Narbonne Monuments Pass, you should at least pop in – if only to say hi to your travelling companions via the walls.

Further Information

There is a fee to enter the museum, but there is a pass available which gets you into all the museums of Narbonne.

There isn’t a website for the treasury, but there is some information in French only available about places to visit in Narbonne, with some downloadable pdfs: www.webmuseo.com

How to Get There

The walk from the train station to the centre of town is pretty straightforward, but if you want information about buses, this is the official site with Google-translate English, or just pretty basic French: www.citibus.fr

To get to Narbonne by train from Spain or elsewhere on France’s south coast, check out the excellent national site in English: www.sncf.com

 

 

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