Revisiting Cuxa (Dennis Aubrey)

Our original post on the famous Abbeye Saint Michel de Cuxa in the Pyrénées-Orientales gives much of the history and description of the church. I won’t repeat those contributions in this post, but will merely show the photographs that were taken to supplement those taken earlier. This time we arrived in the early afternoon at Codalet even though we were staying just a few miles away at Prades. But that late arrival meant that we didn’t really have enough time to shoot the church completely, so these photographs represent about three hours each by PJ and myself. The abbey certainly deserves more than this since it has a magnificent Carolingian nave and elements of the 11th century renovations done by the Abbot Oliba who was also the Count of Cerdanya.

One other 11th century survivor is the magnificent four level castellated bell tower. The northern bell clocher collapsed in a storm in 1839. I love the lombard bands and the narrow windows of the first two stories and the view of the Carolingian nave to the left.

Exterior, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Inside we can see the rough stone walls of that nave. The roof was never vaulted in stone and we can see the well-restored wooden vaults that cover the surface at this time.

Nave, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ Aubrey

The nave elevation gives a great sense of what the abbey is like, the thick walls, horseshoe arches and the wooden vault supported by the stone arches.

Nave elevation, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ Aubrey

There are modern groin vaults covering the choir and apse. The choir, incidentally, serves as a stage for the world-famous Pablo Casals Festival of Prades. I have never heard the music in that space in person, but the recordings are phenomenal.

Choir and apse, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Note that the side aisle arches are not round or ogive, but horseshoe. This shows the Visigothic influences on the construction of the early church.

Side aisle, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Saint Michel de Cuxa is filled with wonderful small corners and vistas. This one looking from the transept back to the side aisle is one of my favorites

Transept detail, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The cloister of Saint Michel de Cuxa is in two parts, one at the original abbey in the Pyrénées mountains and the other in the Cloisters Museum in New York City. The Cloisters was created in the 1930’s to display medieval art and architecture. I’ve always been conflicted by the removal of great architectural monuments from their original locations. It smacks of travesties like the Elgin Marbles stripped from the Parthenon in Athens or the Altar of Zeus in Pergamum, Turkey,

Cloister, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ Aubrey

The cloister is made from the pink Conflent marble which was present throughout the area. In medieval times, there were 16 marble mines within ten miles (as the crow flies) of Saint Michel de Cuxa. The Babebany quarry was just a short distance away. This was a treasure for builders in the region and the marble is found in all the major structures in Catalonia including Saint Martin du Canigou and the Priory of Serrabone. At the latter, the tribune is one of the major pieces of Romanesque sculpture.

The half cloister, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ Aubrey

This shot of the corner of the cloister shows how much of the original has been lost to the Cloisters Museum. If you visit the New York site, you can see that they have made their half-cloister a full square cloister about a quarter of the size of the original.

Cloister fragment, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ Aubrey

The adornment of the cloister consists of extremely fine sculptural elements including the decorative details on the arches.

Cloister arch detail, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The workmanship of the famous historiated capitals is extraordinary. We talked to a monk in Corneilla-de-Conflent who said that the Conflent marble is ideal for sculpture and certainly the best workers from this area would have been privileged to work with such an ample supply.

Cloister capital, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The area around Prades is one of our favorites in all of France. We stay in a lovely gite called the Castell Rose which has a perfect view of Mont Canigou (which can be seen looming over the abbey in the next photograph). There are a number of pleasant restaurants including the El Taller (which is actually outside of town on the other side of the abbey). El Taller serves good wine and food and what we christened to the owner (to his delight) a “damn fine clafouti”! Saint Michel de Cuxa is a mere seven minutes from our hotel and Saint-Martin-du-Canigou fifteen minutes. Prades and the abbey are the site of the Prades Festival founded by cellist Pablo Casals.

Prades Festival at Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa,

And finally, as if this were not enough, PJ and I learned to drink the regional wine with the porró or porron. The first time we encountered this we were at a restaurant and tried to fill our glass with it. The waiter gave us a discouraged look and showed us the proper way to use it. Now we feel so sophisticated.

Woman drinking from porron

For many reasons, it is clear, we love this region and this particular town. Last time there we attended a Catalan folk festival, which was great fun. The compère made clear that this was Catalonia, not Occitanie the new French administrative department. With great contempt he indicated by gesture that Occitanie was “back there somewhere”.

Catalan folk dancers

However much we like the friendly people, great food, dance and music festival, and the beautiful mountains, one thing draws us back to the area. We love the monuments like Saint Michel de Cuxa, Saint-Martin-du-Canigou and so many others. It is a paradise for the Romanesque.

Exterior from garden, Abbaye Saint Michel de Cuxa, Codalet (Pyrénées-Orientales) Photo by PJ Aubrey

For those that are interested in hearing something from the Prades Festival, here is an audio clip of Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Oboe in Cm, BWV. 1060R, Allegro.

Location: 42.598º 2.6226º

6 thoughts on “Revisiting Cuxa (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. The Abbaye seems almost cave-like. Were the floor lights your touch, or were they permanent? Either way, they were very effective in illuminating the elements. The bell tower is magnificent. Did y’all hear the bells? I agree totally about the practice of buying, and relocating these masterpieces. I visited the “Spanish Monastery” of St. Bernard de Clairvaux in Miami many times as a child and as an adult. Something just never felt right being there. Last week I visited the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile, Alabama, and posted my photos. I was reminded of your visit to the Savannah Cathedral, and although not nearly as colorful, the German windows in Mobile were worth the visit.

    1. Vann, so nice to hear from you, as always. Ah, Savannah. That was at the time of my “false recovery”. Had just finished radiation and thought that it would be great to travel. Wrong move. Still had a great time but the exhaustion! Savannah Cathedral was wonderful, though and we enjoyed the experience of shooting there. Am going next to look at your shots of the cathedral in Mobile!

  2. Dear Dennis Aubrey !
    It is a pleasure to receive your posts ! The last one concerns St Michel de Cuxa, in French Catalunya, that we know well and like much ! There are also other roman places in the Tet valley: do you know the priorate of Serrabona, which is perhaps my preferred, for the place, et the extraordinary sculpted ensemble.
    I appreciate that you are quite active these last weeks… and I will create a file dedicated to it, because my e-mails stack is filling rapidly !
    With my best regards !
    Michel Aragno, Neuchâtel (Switzerland)


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