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New Delhi, India
July 6, 2009
The Cathedral of St Peter, Cathédrale St Pierre, is impressive, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s so tucked away amidst the other buildings that, unless you’re keeping an eye out for it, you can actually miss it. Well, we did at any rate, and ended up meandering around the surrounding lanes and bylanes before we found it. Then, of course, it seemed so silly to have missed something so large. The point is to climb up steadily past Rue de la Madeleine, up the steep incline, till you come to a building with a pillared façade, standing at the end of a paved courtyard. This, though at first glance it resembles a town hall or a courthouse or something equally mundane, is the cathedral, believe it or not. We craned our necks a bit to eventually see an intricate green spire (topped by a crucifix) snaking its way up amidst the blocks of stone, and satisfied that this was the Cathédrale St Pierre, we entered.
The cathedral’s a mishmash of architectural styles, mainly Gothic and Romanesque, built between 1160 and 1230, when it started off being a highly opulent and eye-catching structure. This, during the Reformation, caught the eye of a bunch of zealots who decided all that opulence was definitely unchristian. Except for a bit of carving and some stained glass, nearly all the decoration in the church was put to the axe or the bonfire or whatever, so what you see today is a highly toned down version of what the cathedral originally was.
It may not be very fancy, but in our brief ramble through the cathedral, we found sufficient to interest us. The stained glass windows are lovely, and some of the old carving can be seen on the stone capitals of the pillars: dragons, snakes, and other animals abound. Other than that, the choir stalls—carved with the figures of the saints, each lightly gilded and labelled—are worth a look. So, too, is the chair from which John Calvin, outspoken proponent of the Reformation, preached some sermons. For us, there was yet another attraction: the mausoleum of one of the Prince Bishops of Strasbourg, Henri Rohan. Since we’d just returned from a trip to Strasbourg, where we’d seen the Palais Rohan and learnt a bit about the Rohans, seeing this tomb was like meeting an old friend. A life-size statue of Henri Rohan, carved from white marble, forms the centrepiece of the mausoleum.
Overall, the cathedral, though very austere, is worth a look. Entry is free, but a small fee is charged if you want to climb up to the tower.
From journal A Few Hours in Geneva
February 20, 2006
From journal Fun and Physics in Geneva, Switzerland
London, United Kingdom
May 19, 2004
Although impressive from below, my first reaction to seeing the huge structure at closer range was admittedly that of slight disappointment. It is externally a somewhat untidy mixture of architectural styles that is immediately obvious thanks to the neo-classical façade, which does not fit in with the pretty surrounding medieval square.
However, the interior is a much more harmonious affair, primarily because of the removal of almost all decoration during the years that Jean Calvin preached from the pulpit, which was a time when the city was known as the Protestant Rome. Although the process might have resulted in an aesthetic as stern as one of the great reformer’s sermons or his austere seat that is still located there, I actually found the effect to be surprisingly nice in a rather understated way. In fact, despite such sparseness, the combined effect of the soaring height of the ceiling and the elegance of the bare but appealing pale grey stonework is pleasant rather than severe, and accentuates the few remaining elaborations, especially the colourful and unusually patterned stained glass windows, which look fabulous against the stark backdrop.
Meanwhile, the small Maccabean Chapel escaped the aforementioned ravages, and following a period of use as a storeroom, renovation work has restored former glories. The ornate Gothic scene, especially the angelic frescoes, is a real contrast to the rest of the building, and gives many intriguing clues to how things must have once looked throughout.
In addition, it is also possible to ascend to the top of one of the towers. Although climbing the 150 steps of the fairly claustrophobic staircase may be a daunting prospect, doing so is certainly worthwhile because the views over the rooftops to the lake and the mountains are wonderful.
Finally, found under the cathedral are the results of a long and ongoing archaeological project, which include the walls and old mosaic floors of the various religious structures that previously occupied the site, the oldest of which dates back to the start of the 5th century. However, whilst academically very significant, somewhat confusing presentation makes it a little difficult for a layperson like myself to properly appreciate.
From journal Geneva - A truly international city