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Fortress of faith

Cité épiscopale d’Albi

The Gothic architecture that we find at Albi is far removed from the decorative style normally associated with French art. Priority is given to the play of lines in the layout of the building, to the volume and the sharpness of contrast. We reach the summit of austere simplicity which opposes Southern Gothic architecture to the exuberance of French architecture.

The reasons for this departure from the norm can be attributed to the political and religious context of 13th Century Albi. Bernard de Castanet chose the military style of the Cathedral as a response to the Cathar heresy. The nave is conceived to make the Cathedral into a house of the word. The openness of the space permits each congregant to participate equally in mass and particularly in the Eucharist.

The dogma of the transubstantiation and the devotion to the Eucharist 1were opposed to the Cathar dualism which denied the reality of the incarnation2 and declared the material world to be abandoned to evil.

By its bare simplicity the architecture of Albi Cathedral turns back upon the Cathar heresy some of its strongest weapons: austerity and a certain distance from the world of the senses. The Cathedral clearly manifests the evolution of the faith and of pastoral theology in the 13th Century as well as the progress of the personalisation and internalisation of religious feeling.

The Cathedral symbolises the reduction of the role of the senses in communion with God, the soul must look within itself in order to come closer to God. The Cathedral becomes an enclosed space which invites one to self examination and to meditation upon the sacred.

Reduced to its essential forms the Cathedral expresses the divine by its chaste harmony.

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