Basilica St-Nazaire

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Basilica St-Nazaire is on the west of La Cité. This is a large building and it is almost impossible to photograph the outside.

There has been a church here since the 6thC. The nave is all that is left of the 11thC Romanesque church. The rest was destroyed during the Cathar Wars and was rebuilt in Gothic style in the 13/14thC with a lot of carving and decorative work. It was heavily restored by Violett-le-Duc in the 19thC.

There is a large flat bell tower at the west end with a stone arch across to a smaller square tower at the south west corner.

It is worth walking down to the south transept to admire the exterior carvings. The south transept door has carvings of foliage on an arch above the door. Above is a free standing carved triangular portico with trefoils and quadrifoils. Buttresses on the transept and apse have two steps and a triangular top with crocketed (nobbly) sides and a small cross. There are huge gargoyles and an open carved stone frieze round the top of the walls with carved corbels beneath it. The south transept has an unusual octagonal tower with pinaceled top at the south east corner. The north transept has a small spire.

The South door is late 12thC and has narrow pillars with carved capitals and carved arches above it. Entry is through the plain wooden door to the right .

Inside it is a massive building. On a dull day it was quite dark inside making photography difficult. The Romanesque windows at the back of the nave have plain glass. The rest of the windows are Gothic with mainly medieval stained glass in predominantly shades of blues and reds. The transepts have beautiful rose windows.

Round and multi-angular pillars with carved capitals round arches separate nave and side aisles. The pillars continue up to form the ribs of the nave. On one pillar is a pulpit which is painted to resemble marble with gilt decoration. The sounding board has a gilt dove on the underside and a gilded angel with trumpet above. Towards the back of the nave is the 15thC marble font. At the west end is a big wooden organ above a stone archway.

There are small chapels off the nave. At the back of the south wall St Antony of Padua is on the wall under a round apse with hanging bosses. This is all that remains of his chapel demolished by Violett-le-Duc. Next to it is St Peter’s Chapel with locked metal doors. Peering through them, it is just possible to see the 14thC tomb of St-Pierre de Rochefort, Bishop from 1300-22 and responsible for most of the Gothic work in the Basilica. There are three gothic arches supported by columns. In the centre is a statue of the bishop with deacons on either side. The plinth depicts his funeral procession with priests, canons, and clerics.

Opposite is the Chapel of the Sacred Heart which contains the tombs of a 14thC and 18thC bishop. These are under polythene awaiting restoration.

Red and white flecked marble steps lead up from the nave into the chancel and adjacent chapels. There is a huge east apse with big stained glass windows. Beneath the window is a Gothic arcade with blind arches. The ceiling is vaulted with carved stone bosses. On the pillars and side walls are a selection of unidentified stone statues.

The chapel to the south has a statue of the Virgin with the Christ Child on the wall. The middle chapel has a seated and painted Virgin with the boy Jesus above the altar. The end chapel has a pieta on the south wall of a distraught Mary holding the dead body of Christ. This is on a stone plinth with carved shields below. The whole is set in a Gothic arch with the remains of paint on the carvings. Above is a trefoil set in a pointe arch. There is a lovely carving of a dog at the bottom of one end of the arch. There are another two recesses with ornate gothic carving above them.

On the north side of the chancel, the first chapel has a carving of the Trinity with God the Father holding the crucified Christ. In the middle chapel is an altar with a 17thC carving of St Roch. The end chapel has pampas grass heads in a vase on the altar. A wall recess in a Gothic arch contains a statue of the Virgin and Child.

There is more Gothic arcading around the two doors on the north wall with carved bases with heads and foliage.

On the west wall of the transept is a big stone slab with a carving of a knight in armour with a sword . His feet rest on a lion and his hands are held in prayer. This is thought to be Simon de Montford who lead the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars and was killed in 1218 at the Siege of Toulouse. Next to it is the highly carved 13thC Siege Stone. It is possible to make out the ramparts of Toulouse. On the far side is a small square stone with two small carved shields at the bottom and a Latin inscription asking for masses for the soul of A de Tournus, Lord of Sevres 1477.

When we visited there was a male quartet singing in the nave, Their voices filled the cathedral with sound.

This is rather an over powering church. I still can’t make up my mind whether I liked it or not. If visiting La Cité, it has to be visited.

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