Visiting the Cathedral of Saint-Jérôme, Digne-lès-Bains, France: with a tower and metal campanile dominating the town
Still the most conspicuous building in the city
Digne already had a Cathedral.
This was in the Middle Ages, and it still exists (1).
Then in 1490 the Bishop of Digne decided that Digne needed another one. The Cathedral of Saint-Jérôme is the result. Begun in the late 15th century, and completed in the 1860s, its crowning feature is a bell-tower with an intriguing metal campanile, which dominates the city.
So why did the Medieval bishop decide that he and the town needed another Cathedral? Well, this was his military strategy (2).
So what was a bishop doing with military strategy? Well, this never stopped Medieval bishops before. (This certainly underlines the stark contrast between North American traditions of separation of church and state, and the former Old Europe tendency for ecclesiastical figures to be knee-deep in warfare and politics.)
But even today it is easy to visualize how the Cathedral of Saint-Jérôme, built as it is on the top of a hill and behind sturdy ramparts, would have been difficult to attack and relatively easy to defend.
Digne-lès-Bains is the principal city of France's Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department, in the south-east of the country; part of this department borders onto Italy. (At times, at Digne-lès-Bains, one could imagine that one were in Italy.)
In addition to the conspicuous bell-tower and campanile, noted features of the Cathedral include prominent, pointed arching at its main entrance frontage and flying buttresses — contributing to a strong, Gothic style identity — and a large rose window. The interior of the building contains vaulting which blends with the Gothic arch theme. The prominent bell-tower, however, has a more Italianate appearance.
The Cathedral's 15th century architect was Antoine Brollion. Its 19th century architect was Antoine-Nicolas Bailly (3).
The city, known for centuries as Digne, officially became Digne-lès-Bains in 1988.
I travelled by rail to Digne-lès-Bains via Nice, from Nice CP station; this approximately 3 hour trip provides some very impressive Alpine scenery. The isolated, and arid, nature of the region seems particularly striking to the visitor coming from a distance.
February 19, 2015
(1) See 'Also worth seeing', below.
(2) As well as being militarily astute, the bishop in question, Antoine Guiramand (d.1516) was accomplished enough in ecclesiastical politics to be able to ensure that his nephew, François Guiramand, succeeded him as bishop.
(3) Architect Bailly was also responsible for a number of other significant ecclesiastical projects, as well as for the Town Hall of Paris's 4th arrondissement and for the Tribunal de commerce de Paris.
Also worth seeing
In Digne-lès-Bains itself, other visitor attractions include the 'first' Cathedral, Notre-Dame-du-Bourg, which also features a prominent rose window; 1.5 kilometres north of the city is a noted archeological fossil site at the route de Barles; the city has a number of museums, including the Musée Gassendi.
In Nice (distance: 149.4 kilometres) among the numerous visitor attractions are the famous Promenade anglaise on NIce Bay (French: Baie de Nice); the old city (French: Vieux-Nice) has many fine buildings, including Sainte-Réparate Cathedral; the 11th - 18th century château de Nice , overlooks the city from a hill, and recalls the ancient County of Nice (French: Comté de Nice); and many others.
Monaco Town, Principality of Monaco (distance: 165.9 kilometres) has numerous, fine buildings, including the Prince's Palace and its Napoleonic Museum; its Cathedral; its Palace of Justice, and many others.
How to get there: Delta Airlines flies direct from New York to Nice, France (Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur), where car rental is available. There are regular rail links between Nice CP railroad station and Digne-lès-Bains. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent. For border crossing arrangements which may apply to travellers of certain nationalities, please consult the appropriate consular sources.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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