Abbey and Cathedral ruins

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The abbey in Alet-les-Bain, was founded in 813AD by the Count of Razes and became a cathedral in the 12thC, as part of the fight against the Cathars. It had a nave with side chapels and a small apse at the east end. The Chapter house and cloisters were to the north. It had two small clock towers. The clock tower of St Michael was on the south wall. The clock tower of Our Lady on the north wall. It was a wealthy establishment and contained a fragment of the true cross. The wealth of the Abbey helped pay for the fortification of the town in the 12thC.

In the 14thC, the abbey was extended by building large ambulatory with five apses round the original apse.

During the Wars of Religion, the abbey and town were defeated by the Protestants in 1575 who destroyed the altars and statues. It was recaptured by the Catholics in 1588 but by then the abbey was partially ruined.

In 1776, the last bishop authorised the sale of land at the east end of the abbey to allow a new road, rue Nicolas, to be built. There was further destruction during the Revolution when the road was widened. Now all that is left is part of the nave and Romanesque apse, the two towers of Saint Michael and Notre Dame as well as the chapter house and part of the cloisters.

From the shop and ticket office, you enter the ambulatory and the first thing you see is the heavily buttressed outside of the Romanesque apse with big step buttresses. Between them are small narrow Romanesque windows with round tops. These are set in panels with carved and arcaded tops. Inside, this has a beautiful Romanesque apse with five smaller apses off it. The apse arches have a narrow carved frieze running round the walls above them.

On either side of the chancel arch are two small square wall niches with carved triangular tops. The south pillar has an elaborately carved capital with a double row of acanthus leaves. There is the remains of carving round the chancel arch.

Round the outside of the Romanesque apse is the remains of the much larger 14thC ambulatory and apse. All that is left is the first round south apse. This had multangular wall pillars and a vaulted ceiling. The apse had was arcaded with five small pointe arches with trefoil insets. There is the remains of a piscina on the wall and low benches round the walls.

The walls of the nave stand to two storeys in places. Side chapels on the north wall were separated by pillars and round arches. The remains of carved capitals and wall bosses can still be seen. The two side towers have a doorway and steps to them.

The west end has two large round archways where the doors were. These have round, blank arches above. Above these is a wall frieze and two small Romanesque windows with embossed carving on the sides.

A doorway in the north wall lead to a passage way with the chapter house on the right. This has a round doorway with two round pillars on either side with recently recarved capitals. On either side are round open arches with two round pillars on each side wit carved capitals.

There is little left of the cloisters and the passageway leads to a locked metal gateway to the outside.

Entry to the abbey is off rue Nicolas Pavillon. It has a good bookshop with a selection of books about the area and the Cathars in English and German as well as French.

For those not wanting to pay to go into the ruins, there are good views of the outside from the graveyard next to Église St-André (separate review).

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