Church-snooping in Oloron Sainte Marie

I love wandering around and inside French churches. They are such a heart to any French village or town, often in the middle of the busiest square and chiming out the time for everyone to follow. They’re a great place to watch families dressed to the nines celebrating a wedding or a christening, and the rest of the week they remain wonderfully open to the public. Today, I had an explore around the Eglise Sainte-Marie, formerly the Cathedrale Saint-Marie, in Oloron-Sainte-Marie (or Auloron-Senta-Maria in Basque).  I celebrated my birthday this week and got a gorgeous new camera (will talk about that elsewhere) and wanted to exercise it on something other than the mountain views from our garden. Here are some of the pictures I took of the outside and some of the things I gleaned about its history.

Eglise Sainte Marie

The church’s history is blighted by fires; it was burnt down after its initial build in 1102, then partially destroyed again in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was finally given the care and attention to rise from the ashes in the 18th century, when it was also built on and made significantly larger….

It’s most well renowned for its front Romanesque archway. There were some amazing figures moulded into the archway, and one that looked particularly cheesed off at having to hold up the central pillar….

The Romanesque archway
Why am I the one holding up this bloody pillar?

All around the cathedral there were little studded wooden doors, which must have had a use at some point.

Doors, doors and more doors

In a low glass conservatory at the back, where old Roman ruins were being protected, a lizard sat and sunned itself on the rock. Seems preservationists can keep humans from touching ancient history but not the reptile population.

Lizard basking in the sun and not abiding by the conservation glass

It was interesting visiting a church with so much history; usually churches – even the oldest – are rarely given more than a short introductory blurb on the notice board. At the back of the Eglise Sainte-Marie, there was a section of grass fringed with tiny green shrubs, showing a cross section of tombs, sarcophagus and graves they had unearthed from different eras. There were some going back to the 7th century.

The second oldest of the graves they had collected at the back of the church

Finally, we sat in a little café right in front of the church and enjoyed what must be the oldest part of Oloron. Even the building the café was housed in was dated above the doorway…

Date of the building above the cafe door

The architecture in Oloron is something we had never seen before. It reminded us of Tudor England, with wooden balconies all along the front of the house. Little turrets with tiny windows were my favourite though; the bright coloured shutters set against dark slate gleamed in the sunshine…

Blue shuttered turrets

I took some final shots of the clouds ambling along in the breeze above the imposing central church tower. I can’t get enough of French churches and can’t wait to take photos of any more I discover with my new camera…

Clouds over the church tower

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