Basilique de Saint Paul-Serge in Narbonne (Dennis Aubrey)


We had a tough time this fall in the Languedoc region of France. Many of the churches were closed and locked, while every day was sunny but subject to the relentless “Transmontana” winds that sweep across the southern plains. The Transmontana is created by the difference of pressure between the cold air of a high pressure system over the Atlantic or northwest Europe and a low pressure system over the Mediterranean. The high-pressure air flows south, gathering speed as it is funneled between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central. These winds blow constantly during the day, bending trees forty-five degrees and making a howling noise. On one of those blustery days, we made our way into Narbonne and found ourselves, completely by accident, at the 12th Century Basilique de Saint Paul-Serge in the middle of town.

The first thing that you notice when you enter the church are the three diaphragm arches (placed in the church in the 16th Century) spanning the nave. The first one that is seen is wider than the rest and the restraining wall is higher. To the right, against the wall, can be seen the top of an opening. Clearly, this tribune allows people to cross the nave from above.

Nave of the Basilique de Saint Paul-Serge, Narbonne ( Aude) Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

The next version, in PJ’s shot, shows that the second and third tribunes are narrow and abut the pilasters of the columns. Clearly, they are not for crossing the nave in any way. Their raison d’être, then, is probably structural, although I cannot find any reference to this.

Nave of Basilique de Saint Paul-Serge, Narbonne (Aude) Photo by PJ McKey

The wide groin-vaulted side aisles are one of the finest features of the church and provide long straight vistas down to the ambulatory. This first shot is the south side aisle looking back to the west.

South side aisle of the Basilique de Saint Paul-Serge, Narbonne ( Aude) Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

PJ’s next shot is of the south side aisle, again looking back to the west.

South side aisle of the Basilique Saint Paul-Serge, Narbonne (Aude) Photo by PJ McKey

The third side aisle shot is the same south side aisle, but this time looking east to the ambulatory in the distance.

South side aisle of Basilique de Saint Paul-Serge, Narbonne (Aude) Photo by PJ McKey

The ambulatory itself provides a view of the gothic radial chapels and the gallery that carries around the chancel.

Ambulatory of the Basilique de Saint Paul-Serge, Narbonne ( Aude) Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

The chancel and altar are beautifully framed by the pillars and the opens ends of the tribune gallery on either side.

Chancel of the Basilique de Saint Paul-Serge, Narbonne ( Aude) Photo by Dennis Aubrey)

The Basilica is a harmonized amalgam of Romanesque and early Gothic styles, in fact, one of the earliest Gothic not only in the Languedoc but in all of France. We were only able to spend about 90 minutes shooting because of a public baptism in the church. We came back two days later on Sunday, but the church was closed, so we never had a chance to complete our shoot or to get pictures of the famous “Last Judgment” capital. I guess this is just a reason for us to return to Saint Paul-Serge and complete our mission.

6 responses to “Basilique de Saint Paul-Serge in Narbonne (Dennis Aubrey)

    • Lauren, thanks for your kind words. Our life is very exciting, being able to visit these places and spend so much time photographing them. There are 5000 of these Romanesque churches in France alone – we have our work cut out for us!

    • Michelle, we have a Google Earth database with about 2000 churches in France. Here is a screen capture of that database.

      Romanesque France

      We’ve shot 400 (those churches are marked in red). Lots of work to do. As you can see, the pattern of the churches roughly follows the paths of the Santiago de Campostella pilgrimage routes.

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