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Albi’s inspiring sobriety

Published May 20, 2022
Updated Oct 26, 2022

📍 🇫🇷 Albi’s inspiring sobriety

“The brick bulk of Albi hit my soul like a hammer”, wrote the English writer Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936 CE) in his memoirs. 

Yet, the brick was not meant for the young Kipling. It was meant as a defense against religious threats. After the defeat of the anti-Albigeois Crusade (1203-1229 CE) led by the Paris-based French King against Albi’s region (a military intervention motivated by the region’s abandonment of Catholicism for the more austere Cathar “heresy”), local rulers had to give up Catharism. But they embarked on a project that combined their desire for a more austere religious practice - less distracted by fancy decorations all around - with the need to protect themselves against future attacks.

Albi’s Cathedral was constructed in 1282 CE to serve this purpose. French historian Henri Focillon made a remarkable observation of the aesthetic impact of the primacy given to tactical considerations:

“A compact mass, with a particularly lean silhouette - no transept [general plan in the form of a cross] or chapels here. No flying buttresses either [too vulnerable] but thick spurs rounded like towers; these same outwards spurs are then penetrating inside the Cathedral from the ground all the way up to the vaults above... A contiguous vessel that had no model and no imitation.”

Paintings and sculptures in the Cathedral were added later on, giving it colors and movement, but the initial message of sobriety remains stronger to this day.

____ Sources ____ 

>> Kipling, “Souvenirs of France”, 1933
>> Henri Focillon, "The Art of the West in the Middle Ages", 1938

13th CE