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28 | living places to visit

The Romanesquemeets-Gothic tower

The apse and choir, completed in 1327

additions, topped off with an 18m spire which was destroyed during a hurricane in 1443. In 1571 its successor was struck by lightning, and was never replaced. The use of local fine-grained granite (quarried north of the city at Neuplanchas) as the main construction material resulted in a far more robust

and durable structure than its fragile northern counterparts, and the vast roof is protected by tough Limousin slate from the ancient quarries of Travassac (Corrèze). Obviously, cutting and sculpting granite is slow and laborious, so it’s no surprise that decorative embellishments were largely confined to the flamboyant Gothic façade of the northern Saint-Jean transept, completed in 1530. It’s another unusual feature, since principal entrances elsewhere were commonly via southern transepts, with western doorways (not an option here) being flung wide open only on grand occasions. Inside you’ll experience a powerful sensation of having been shrunk to ant-like proportions by the soaring verticality which is a defining quality of French Gothic architecture – while England went for length, France aimed high. For maximum effect

come when late afternoon sunlight pours though the mostly 14th century stained glass, creating a medieval slide show and turning sombre grey granite to fiery gold. The north and south rose-windows are truly spectacular, while at the western end of the nave is a16th century Renaissance-style jubé‚ or rood screen, one of the very few still surviving in France. Outside, the nearby Archbishop’s Palace dates from the 18th century, and is now an elegant museum whose exhibits include a very respectable art collection and many examples of Limoges’ world-famous enamels. If you’re now wondering how the town became the centre of production, the answer lies in the strong demand for reliqueries and other religious objects, including souvenirs for those visiting the Saint’s tomb in the Bénédictine Abbaye Saint-Martial, an important halt on the pilgrimage route to Saint-Jacques de Compostela.

The master architect of Limoges Cathedral... Despite a lack of documentary evidence, numerous structural and stylistic features suggest the hand of the brilliant architect Jean Deschamps (1218-1295). He and his son Pierre were also largely responsible for the cathedrals of Clermont-Ferrand, Narbonne, Rodez and Toulouse. It’s here at Limoges, however, that his genius still shines most brilliantly.

Profile for Living Magazine

Living Magazine April/May 19