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Périgueux Cathedral - A broad church

Périgueux Cathedral - A broad church

13 Aug 2013 BY Tim Wells

The Périgueux skyline is dominated by the unmistakeable silhouette of the Cathedral St-Front-de-Périgueux, one of the most curious examples of hybrid church architecture in all Christendom, and one that still fuels debates among scholars about its unusual design. Its basilica plan in the shape of a Greek cross topped by five domes is reminiscent of St Mark’s in Venice, as well as the Cathedral at Angoulême a bit closer to home, but an even earlier forerunner of this design appears in Justinian’s Constantinople, in the 6th century Church of the Holy Apostles. An early chapel named after the first bishop of Périgueux was razed by the Normans in 732, and its successor, the 10th-11th century abbey church serving as a staging post for pilgrims of St-Jacques, was destroyed by fire in 1120, along with much of the town. The third basilica was completed around 1173 in its current form, with its unusual combination of Romanesque and Byzantine features. Perhaps these architectural ideas had travelled west with the pilgrims; they soon spread throughout Aquitaine. The final touches to this unique roofline came during a late 19th reconstruction by Paul Abadie, who in repairing the crumbling domes also added some rather exotic turrets on top and other features that were not to everyone’s taste. All that remains of the original 12th century church is the bell-tower.

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