Standing high on the Rocher des Domes, the tall tower of Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral competes with the Papal Palace to dominate the skyline of Avignon. With the gilded statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the spire it is taller but lacks the impressive bulk of the Place.
The cathedral was built in the C12th on the site of a C4th Basilica which was sacked by the Saracens in the C8th.
The belfry collapsed at the start of the C15th and had to be rebuilt. Many of the side chapels were added in the C14th when the Popes moved to Avignon. The apse was rebuilt and extended in the C17th. The building was abandoned and left to deteriorate during the French Revolution, being reconsecrated in 1822 and underwent a massive restoration. The 6m high gilded statue of the Virgin blessing the city was added in 1859.
It is a typical Romanesque building with a very plain frontage and the remains of a painting on the typmpanum and arch above.
Inside the door is a small porch with a side altar with the dead body of Christ at the base of the cross. Make sure you look up as the ceiling is painted with a pattern of squares with flower motifs. There are the remains of wall paintings.
When I visited in 2017, the inside of the cathedral had recently had a €3.6million face lift. The stonework has been cleaned and looked magnificent. It is impressive with heavy arches leading to side chapels and a narrow gallery running round the walls above them. Again remember to look up, as there is a remains of a wall painting under the crossing.
Compared to the rest of the building, the apse is very plain with wood panelling beneath the plain glass windows and a simple altar. In front of it is a C14th statue of Our Lady of All Power, given to the Cathedral by Pope John XXII. The Bishop’s throne sits resplendent under a red canopy.
The side chapels off the south aisle are fairly simple. That in the north aisle reserved for private prayer is much more ornate with painted walls and ceiling.
Near it is the tomb of Pope Benedict XII who was responsible for the Old Palace. All the Avignon Popes were buried in the cathedral.
Along with the Papal Palace, this is one of the most visited sites in Avignon and is always busy. If you want to miss the crowds, try visiting first thing in the morning (when all the tourists are ‘doing’ the Papal Palace) or from mid afternoon (when most have moved on).
I visited here on Day 7 of Burgundy, the River Rhone and Provence, a river cruise with Riviera Travel. My full account with all the pictures can be found “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/rhone/index.html