Angoulême Cathedral

Angoulême, France | C.1128

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson


Just off the Avenue du Président Wilson, the Angoulême Cathedral cuts an impressive figure in the town that bears its name. The fourth such building to stand at this exact spot, the current building was erected in 1128. Upon first glance, It is hard to ignore the highly decorated and flourished architecture – The façade is decorated with dozens of sculptures that depict the Last Judgement and Ascension of Jesus Christ. A model of both the Latin Cross and Romanesque architectural styles, the Cathedral in Angoulême has plenty of stories to tell. 

Despite over a millennium as the seat of Christianity in the region, the spot was originally consecrated as Pagan before the widespread adoption of the religion in France. The areas inhabitants clearly felt that this lot was special and worthy of worship as the first Christian cathedral was built within the perimeter of the Pagan site, just as the Nicene Creed was solidifying Christian liturgy. Just a century later, this Cathedral would be destroyed by King Clovis, the “first king of what would become France.” 

Coincidentally, King Clovis himself would convert to Catholicism, thus solidifying the role of the religion in France. Just 50 years after his death, another Cathedral would be built on the same spot which would last for five centuries, and a third would last only two decades before the current building took its place.

While the Roman Empire had fallen centuries earlier, the influence of its style was felt all around Western Europe, seen prominently in the Romanesque style of which the Cathedral is a prime example. The Romanesque style is noted by outwardly dominating appearance adorned primarily with domes – a feature that was perfected over hundreds of years in the Roman Empire. All the while, the use of arches was predicting the Gothic architecture that was to come in the next decades.  

Stepping inside, one is presented with a nave that extends aisle-less the entire length of the building. At the fourth segment of the building from the entrance, a feature of the larger plan reveals itself. To the left and the right additions flank the nave, which when viewed from the heavens reveals a Latin Cross form that is commonly associated with Romanesque cathedrals.  

Like all buildings that stand for centuries, the Angoulême Cathedral had additions made to it as well as suffering scars from intermittent wars such as the Wars of Religion that left the original bell tower in ruins. In the late 19th century, the building underwent a major restoration project under the stewardship of master architect Paul Abadie who also presided over the restoration of Notre-Dame and the nearby Château d’Angoulême. While known for being innovative in his additions, the Cathedral remained faithful to its original visage. 

It is that aspect of the building that is constantly returned to. For nearly 1000 years, the Cathedral has imposed an awe upon those who view it. The sculptures, the domes, the grandeur of it all owe to the Romanesque style that harkened back to those grand buildings of ages past. The Angoulême Cathedral pays homage to all the previous churches and holy buildings that had stood on the same spot, as well as providing a model of beauty for centuries to come.

Written By: Chris Gilson

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