Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 22, 2007
Five domed edifice honours St. Front
Missionary bishop Front brought the faith to Perigord
Saint – St. Front – October 25
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
Saint-Front Cathedral cloisters and sculptured pineapples capping roof clochetons (pinnacles) give a distinct Eastern flavour to the architecture.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Those viewing the Cathedral of Perigueux in Southwest France's Perigord region for the first time might be forgiven for feeling they've been transported to some Eastern country.
Anyone seeking the fabled St. Front will find him honoured in the great, exotic, five-domed edifice that centres the Perigueux Diocese, an area that coincides with the Dordogne civil department.
Perigueux began in the first century B.C. as the Roman town of Vesuna, at the site of a Celtic community in the L'Isle River valley. The town was later walled and reduced in size as La Cite.
Much later, after centuries of enduring the wars and conflicts that wracked France, Perigueux became a hotbed of the resistance during the Second World War. Today, the city is noted as a tourist destination - particularly for its gastronomy.
The first recorded bishop of La Cite was one of Paternus in 360, but tradition holds that the faith was brought to Perigord by missionary bishops Front and George.
The former's relics became popular objects of veneration and after they were moved from La Cite's Saint-Etienne Cathedral to a monastic site at nearby Puy-Saint-Front, the two communities ultimately merged in the 13th century to become Perigueux. The diocesan seat was moved in the 16th century from Saint-Etienne.
Although many explanations for the unusual design of Saint-Front Cathedral are that it was modelled on various eastern houses of God, the consensus now is that it originated in the minds of local builders as their idea of what a domed church should look like.
This became the standard for some 60 surviving similar structures in France's Aquitaine.
On entering, first impressions of the Cathedral of Perigueux for many is one of spaciousness, the result of not only the large nave, but also the presence of the domes, high overhead.
The original 11th century church, beneath the imposing many tiered bell-tower, is closed to the public pending final restoration of the tower stonework. Like so many in France, it is shrouded in scaffolding.
St. Front's relics became popular objects of veneration.
The "new" part of the church interior is in the form of a cross, with each segment capped by a dome.
Despite the uncertainty of the details of St. Front's appearance, his life has been colourfully and dramatically portrayed by E. Didron in the 19th century stained glass windows of the cathedral. All show the saint in traditional bishop's attire with sceptre and mitre.
In one, he is seen destroying a pagan idol, while in another his head is being translated (moved to a new repository) by 15th century bishops of the diocese.
Another event is portrayed in a window celebrating the martyrdom of four disciples of Front - Severinus, Frontasius, Severianus, and Silanus by a sword-wielding executioner.
Outside, not far from the cathedral, historic Roman ruins centred in the La Cite district, with its still-active former Cathedral of Saint-Etienne-de-la-Cite, are popular tourist attractions.
Visible from the Saint-Front Cathedral hill is a steepled, 19th century church across L'Isle dedicated to co-founder St. George, whose feast is also celebrated, with that of Front, on Oct. 25.
The cloisters is a relaxing place to end a tour of the massive Cathedral of Perigueux. It's an oasis of greenery and quiet, an expanse of lawn punctuated by trees and colourful border plantings. One corner features a small statue of Mary and the Christ Child almost smothered by cascades of pink roses, while another has an ancient stone fountain, a symbol of purification.
The entire quadrant is bounded by shaded passageways, for centuries the refuge of weary pilgrims to the shrine of St. Front.