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