On the Beauty of Clermont-Ferrand’s Cathedral

By TypiquedelaFrance | Jan 19, 2021
Europe > France > Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes > Puy-de-Dôme > Clermont-Ferrand

I can think of just one another time a building held me in awe as this building does. When I was 18 and travelling through Italy, I saw the colosseum for the first time as I walked around the Vittoriano. But admittedly, much of that was aided by pre-existing knowledge of what the building once was. I knew not a single fact about this cathedral, it was simply that I'd never seen anything like it. After I saw it for the first time in October 2019, I speak with no hesitation when I state that this is the most beautiful, haunting building that I have seen and if it were in Paris, then the whole world would know its name and the Notre Dame de Paris would be viewed as an inferior little church. But it's not in Paris and maybe I speak too harshly as this cathedral would be forever a stranger if it had been erected in the French capital (I should also just leave poor Notre Dame de Paris alone as she's been through enough crap as it is). That's because this cathedral is Clermont-Ferrand, it is Auvergne and you'll know that when you stand at the foot of the Western front. As you stand between two vast spires which cut 96 metres into the sky, you might want to turn around and stare down the Rue des Gras before studying any of the remarkable details. This simple 180° turn will answer any questions about the strange, black stone which looms overhead. As from there, you will see the dark outline of the ever-present dormant volcano, the Puy de Dome. It is from these lands whereupon the black lava stone was extracted.

By sitting on the top of a hill, which though of course is there for reasons of dominance, I cannot help but infer a homage from the building to the heights of where the rock was extracted. Do the gargoyles cry out to the Dome, “Look mummy, I made it!”. In the dead of night? I like to think so. The high position combined with the relatively small size of Clermont-Ferrand also creates an eerie sense that once you've seen the cathedral you can't escape its hypnotic grip. Even when you think you're a fair distance away, the dark spires will juxtapose themselves beyond the light grey rooftops and as you wander through the narrow streets that feed into the Place de la Victoire the corners and towers practically reach out and demand you come and see. But if you want to see it in all it's beauty then I beg that you walk up from the Rue des Gras, you'd be insane to see it for the first time in another way. The French like to say the word formidable quite frequently so know that when I use this word, I say it strictly within the confines of the rarity that it is used in the English speaking world. It looks utterly formidable. In fact, I often have to restrain myself from ringing up the conspiracy theory lunatics and screaming “HAVE YOU SEEN THIS? ALIENS ARE AMONGST US!”. I can't be the only one to be thinking along these lines either, type in “villain's lair meme” into Google.

I can think of just one another time a building held me in awe as this building does. When I was 18 and travelling through Italy, I saw the colosseum for the first time as I walked around the Vittoriano. But admittedly, much of that was aided by pre-existing knowledge of what the building once was. I knew not a single fact about this cathedral, it was simply that I'd never seen anything like it. After I saw it for the first time in October 2019, I speak with no hesitation when I state that this is the most beautiful, haunting building that I have seen and if it were in Paris, then the whole world would know its name and the Notre Dame de Paris would be viewed as an inferior little church. But it's not in Paris and maybe I speak too harshly as this cathedral would be forever a stranger if it had been erected in the French capital (I should also just leave poor Notre Dame de Paris alone as she's been through enough crap as it is). That's because this cathedral is Clermont-Ferrand, it is Auvergne and you'll know that when you stand at the foot of the Western front. As you stand between two vast spires which cut 96 metres into the sky, you might want to turn around and stare down the Rue des Gras before studying any of the remarkable details. This simple 180° turn will answer any questions about the strange, black stone which looms overhead. As from there, you will see the dark outline of the ever-present dormant volcano, the Puy de Dome. It is from these lands whereupon the black lava stone was extracted.

By sitting on the top of a hill, which though of course is there for reasons of dominance, I cannot help but infer a homage from the building to the heights of where the rock was extracted. Do the gargoyles cry out to the Dome, “Look mummy, I made it!”. In the dead of night? I like to think so. The high position combined with the relatively small size of Clermont-Ferrand also creates an eerie sense that once you've seen the cathedral you can't escape its hypnotic grip. Even when you think you're a fair distance away, the dark spires will juxtapose themselves beyond the light grey rooftops and as you wander through the narrow streets that feed into the Place de la Victoire the corners and towers practically reach out and demand you come and see. But if you want to see it in all it's beauty then I beg that you walk up from the Rue des Gras, you'd be insane to see it for the first time in another way. The French like to say the word formidable quite frequently so know that when I use this word, I say it strictly within the confines of the rarity that it is used in the English speaking world. It looks utterly formidable. In fact, I often have to restrain myself from ringing up the conspiracy theory lunatics and screaming “HAVE YOU SEEN THIS? ALIENS ARE AMONGST US!”. I can't be the only one to be thinking along these lines either, type in “villain's lair meme” into Google.

Yes, I'll get to describing the inside if you're wondering when I'll calm down. It deserves as much praise as the outside. Whilst sunlight pours in from the upper echelons the floor is a battle with a coalition of chandeliers and burning remembrance candles against the darkness which the lava stone invites. There are of course the obligatory signs asking for silence and no flash photography but in truth, there is an atmosphere which renders any need for such a sign as obsolete. You are lulled into a calm and peaceful state the moment you enter. Rather than a sin against God by speaking too loudly, you feel as though you might be sinning against the cathedral and Mother Nature who gave her materials to build this monument. Today, I wanted to return, I wanted to remind myself of the smaller details that lay within. There are many shrines and golden Marys I seem to remember but...I don't even need to say why the doors were shut. Besides, I certainly didn't want to anger the many saints and gargoyles who sit high above guarding the windows and entrances by potentially contaminating their home. Yet one detail that latched itself into my memory is that in one corner there is a semi-circle of all male statues. They're about medium height and you feel somewhat obligated to stand there and brood with them, or at least wonder who they are and what they're thinking. I really was looking forward to having a catch up with the boys but oh well, they're pretty old so I'm assuming it's best to leave them alone for a while.

In the future I may return with an article describing a church service there, I desperately want to see the interior during the night and hear music echoing throughout the heavy pillars and reaching up to the white ceiling. If I haven't made it obvious by now I truly do love this cathedral and so I wanted to write about how it makes me feel more than anything else. I was going to provide a bit of history, that was until I read on the Wikipedia page that the place owes its beginning to the 5th century and the last bit of work was done in the early 20th century. So I'll just let you search for the history yourself. One more fact I will bestow upon you is that apparently during the French Revolution there was a call from the revolutionaries to destroy the cathedral. Well, they could cut the King's head off but the public couldn't destroy their cathedral, I don't know how I'd feel about the place if she wasn't here.

Yes, I'll get to describing the inside if you're wondering when I'll calm down. It deserves as much praise as the outside. Whilst sunlight pours in from the upper echelons the floor is a battle with a coalition of chandeliers and burning remembrance candles against the darkness which the lava stone invites. There are of course the obligatory signs asking for silence and no flash photography but in truth, there is an atmosphere which renders any need for such a sign as obsolete. You are lulled into a calm and peaceful state the moment you enter. Rather than a sin against God by speaking too loudly, you feel as though you might be sinning against the cathedral and Mother Nature who gave her materials to build this monument. Today, I wanted to return, I wanted to remind myself of the smaller details that lay within. There are many shrines and golden Marys I seem to remember but...I don't even need to say why the doors were shut. Besides, I certainly didn't want to anger the many saints and gargoyles who sit high above guarding the windows and entrances by potentially contaminating their home. Yet one detail that latched itself into my memory is that in one corner there is a semi-circle of all male statues. They're about medium height and you feel somewhat obligated to stand there and brood with them, or at least wonder who they are and what they're thinking. I really was looking forward to having a catch up with the boys but oh well, they're pretty old so I'm assuming it's best to leave them alone for a while.

In the future I may return with an article describing a church service there, I desperately want to see the interior during the night and hear music echoing throughout the heavy pillars and reaching up to the white ceiling. If I haven't made it obvious by now I truly do love this cathedral and so I wanted to write about how it makes me feel more than anything else. I was going to provide a bit of history, that was until I read on the Wikipedia page that the place owes its beginning to the 5th century and the last bit of work was done in the early 20th century. So I'll just let you search for the history yourself. One more fact I will bestow upon you is that apparently during the French Revolution there was a call from the revolutionaries to destroy the cathedral. Well, they could cut the King's head off but the public couldn't destroy their cathedral, I don't know how I'd feel about the place if she wasn't here.

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Written by TypiquedelaFrance
Hi! I’m currently living in Clermont-Ferrand and I have blog that concerns anything French that I find interesting! I mainly write about their food, films, buildings and nature.

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