January 9, 2004
Cathédrale de St.-Sauveur, or St. Savior's Cathedral, stands most conventions of European cathedrals on their ears. Typically, cathedrals are located on a main square in the center of a historic city's old quarter. In Aix, the main squares in the old town, the adjoining Place Richelme and Place de l'Hotel de Ville, are adjacent to the Town Hall. Cathédrale St.-Sauveur is located on a positively tiny square on a small pedestrian street almost on the edge of the pedestrian quarter. In those narrow streets, you can find yourself standing under the bell tower almost before you know the church is there. Over the gothic arch above the doors, the statue of a martial St. Savior clad in armor stands guard over the church and little place de l'Université.
If you know the language of architecture, you can read much of Aix's history in the blond stones of this cathedral. This unusual church is a mélange of architectural styles built on a site that has had religious significance for over 2000 years. Once the site of a pagan temple, it was co-opted by the Romans for one of their temples. Materials from the Roman temple were later incorporated into the construction of the Christian church.
Construction of the church proceeded by fits and starts over a millennium, interrupted by war, plague, and political disruptions. The oldest part of the church is the Merovingian baptistery, which dates to 500AD, followed by the Romanesque cloisters. The church features three naves, each in a different style: Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque. The bell tower (1411) and carved walnut doors (1504) are from the Renaissance era.
The church you'll see today is a little less than the sum of these diverse parts. During the Revolution, the sculptural panel above the doors was destroyed and thus is now a blank space. The statues on the face of the church were decapitated and the heads were subsequently lost. The current heads are replacements.
From journal Aixploring Aixquisite Aix-en-Provence