A Catalan architect
Cité épiscopale d’Albi
The architect who defined the architectural form of the Cathedral under the tutelage of Bishop Bernard de Castanet, was most likely the Catalan Pons Descoyl or Descoll.
Originally from the Roussillon he worked in Perpignan in 1277, and again at the end of 1283 and the start of 1284.
The following year the crusade of Aragon intervened and Pons Descoyl disappeared from the Catalan documentation until 1303 when he worked at Ciutadella as royal architect to the King of Majorca.
No evidence exists therefore to exclude the possibility of his presence on the Albi construction site in 1294, or even his continued presence from 1285 to 1303. He may even have guided the construction of the Cathedral from its inception as his presence in Perpignan certainly doesn’t exclude this possibility.
Although there exists no certain proof of the involvement of Pons Descoyl at Albi, there exist clear parallels between other examples of his art and the Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile; the large unadorned planes of the base of the apse of Palma Cathedral and the severity of the external faces of the royal chapel at Perpignan evoke the apse of the Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile.
Additionally, the broad wall-base, sloping up to the narrower walls of Sainte-Cécile is evocative of that of a fortress and we see in his works at Perpignan, Minorca and Almudiana de Majorca that Pons Descoyl was primarily a proponent of military architecture.
The Catalan architect Josep Carrasco i Hortal has undertaken research on the systems of measurement and proportionality of Gothic Catalonia. He has established that the base of the Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile does not correspond to the local or regional measurements found in Albi or Toulouse but to the Catalan system.
This observation applies as much to the definition of the ground level plan of the Cathedral as to the height of the nave and the width of the chapels. This would seem to confirm that the proportions of the Cathedral have been defined by a Catalan architect. It also attests to a certain Catalan-Languedocian unity in monumental architecture at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th centuries.
This architectural closeness corresponds to a linguistic kinship and to a period of much exchange between these neighbouring regions.
That the Bishop of Albi would employ a Catalan architect would be normal in such a climate. Additionally, the choice could be explained by the small number of architects in this period and by the personal history of Bernard de Castanet, originally from Montpellier where he was a professor of law. The Lord of Montpellier was none other than the King of Majorca, descendant of Marie of Montpellier.
Pons Descoyl’s return to Catalonia after 1300 can equally be seen to explain he interruption of the construction following the crisis that swept Albigeois society.
The sanctuary at Albi thus expresses the unity of culture and civilisation between the Languedoc and Catalonia throughout the centuries and particularly in the Gothic era.