Caunes minervois (Aude)
THE BURNING OF A CATHARIST BISHOP
Following the conquest of the region by the Franks in 759, many Benedictine abbeys were created : such as those of Saint Pierre and Saint Paul de Caunes, founded by Anianus, the disciple of Benedetto di Aniane around the 9th century. The abbey’s importance grew rapidly, despite fluctuating fortunes, until the 13th century. During the crusade against the Albigensians in 1227, Pierre Isarn, a famous Bishop of the Catherist church was burnt on the stake.
The abbey went into decline shortly afterwards, despite the fact that new work was undertaken in the 14th century, with the construction of a Gothic nave in the abbey church. There was a further attempt at restoration in the 17th century with the affiliation of the order of St. Maur, but the French Revolution ended its life for good. The buildings being sold to private individuals. Major restoration work was undertaken in 1983, and the abbey is now at the centre of important cultural initiatives, featuring a museum and an exhibition hall.
AN IMPOSING APSE
The remains of the Carolingian church founded by Anianus are still visible in the chancel: consisting of a squared apse in rough stone.
The Romanesque era is splendidly represented in the Abbey of Caunes by an imposing apse, portal and two bell-towers. The apse is especially worthy of note from the exterior: in which two subsequent building stages are clearly visible: the lower part built from small pieces of white marble, with simple finishing, featuring small windows over which there are Lombard arches a typical feature of the early Romanesque period (early XI century). The eight semi-columns of calcareous stone in ancient style are dominated by sculpted capitals with vegetable and geometric motives (entrelacs) considered as the most ancient example of this type in Languedoc.
The upper part of the apse, which dates back to the late 11th century features nine rounded arches, framing three large windows, in a style that is very similar to that to be found in Elne cathedral (Roussillon). While the apses, the transept and the two elegant towers at the end are of a later date (12th century)..Of particular interest in the village are the fronts of certain civil buildings of the 14th,15th and 16th centuries, and part of the walls.
THE MARBLE TRADITION: AN ITALIAN STORY
Caunes has for centuries been famed for its marble in various shades of red, certain splendid examples existing in the interior of the present day church. The marble of Caunes ranges from a pink to a deep red shade, and it has traditionally inspired artists, acquiring great success at the French Court especially under the reign of Louis XIV (The Sun God) and Louis XV. This marble was used in Paris for building the Trianon, the Opera and numerous stately residences. However it was carved mainly by the great Tuscan artists who combined the Red of Caunes with the white marble of Carrara. Today one of the local marble caves is still termed as being that of “the Italians”; and it is they who still extract this precious stone, which is then sent to Tuscany for processing, being the traditional marble workmanship centre.