Friday, May 1, 2015

Toulouse and Auch: Impressions

Hello again from Lourdes, France. We arrived earlier this afternoon, leaving Toulouse, and stopping at Auch along the way. We're all still accounted for and safe and sound. In this post I'll be writing a little bit about my impressions of France so far, and in particular Toulouse and Auch.

The main site related to the pilgrimage was the Basilica of St. Sernin — that 900 year old cathedral that I mentioned in my last post. The inside of the cathedral was breathtaking! Reliquaries lined the back part of the church and each one was covered in gold and ornately decorated. To think that some of the figures, let alone the actual structure, have existed for hundreds of years is just mind-blowing. Oddly, the beauty and history that is wrapped up in the ancient building seems to fade as soon as you step out the door. Cars and motorcyclists whiz past the tourists just trying to hold onto their cameras, further in the city the main tower of the cathedral is not visible, and modern stores like McDonalds, Claire's jewelry, and H&M are everywhere. I couldn't help feeling rather disappointed with this seeming lack of care the local people non-chalantly walking past on their cell phones show toward such an important historical structure. However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to accept that this is not the case at all. I think the cathedral and the surrounding historical buildings are still just as important as they were 900 years ago, its just that modernity, growth, and time have drawn the attention away from the initial awe, that we as tourists feel, when approaching the church. As a historian, it's difficult to admit that such a phenomenon is okay. It's not quite a "one man's junk is another man's treasure" situation going on here, but rather a "I've seen it, I live here, I need to check my email" sort of situation. Such attitudes make it difficult to imagine what pilgrims would have seen and experienced hundreds of years ago, but I think it is truly amazing that such a grand structure has withstood the encroaching waves of modernity over time. The Basilica of St. Sernin was a truly remarkable place to visit and I feel so very lucky to have had the chance to gaze at its beauty.

Similiar observations can be said about the cathedral at Auch. I thought St. Sernin was big. Well, Auch was much, much bigger than St. Sernin. The 16th century stained glass windows were one of the most interesting characteristics of the entire cathedral. Each of the 18 sets of windows depicted hundreds of images that had significant symbolism — saints, disciples, Jesus, cherubs, and other religious figures. They were so detailed and so well preserved, they looked as if they had been created just yesterday using high-tech graphic technology.  The other impressive feature of this cathedral was the choir. Each of the hand-carved choir stalls were unique in their depictions of saints, disciples, religious figures, etc., no other stall was the same. These weren't your grandfather's whittling pieces either, these were ornate masterpieces, some no bigger than my pinky finger. The details were so intricate that it was difficult to process them all and make sense of it. To think that someone actually sat there hundreds of years ago thinking about how this would look and exactly who they wanted to depict is just baffling. The artwork in the choir stalls at Auch Cathedral will forever be a fond memory. Perhaps the pictures I took there will serve as a nice screen saver on my laptop!

That's all for now. Tonight we are in Lourdes, and the next posting will cover today's adventures.

Julia Evans

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