Bernard de Castanet
ca 1240 – 14 August 1317

The see of Albi.

Bernard de Castanet (ca 1240-14 August 1317) was Bishop of Albi, France, since 7 March 1276.
From the earliest Christian times, Albi was the seat of a bishop, and the first bishop was Saint-Clair. His diocese had the same boundaries as the « Civitas Albigensium ».
The collegiate church and the cloister, which bear his name, are evidence of the deep respect in which he was held by the people.

About 1040, the city of Albi went through a new period of expansion with the construction of the Pont-Vieux (bridge).  New quarters were built, indicative of considerable urban growth.The city grew rich at this time, thanks to trade and commercial exchanges, and to the tolls charged for using the Pont-Vieux.

A murderous crusade 

Catharism took root in the 12th century in the Languedoc. In 1208, the Pope and the King joined forces to combat this doctrine, which brought their powers into question. The repression was severe, and many were burnt at the stake throughout the region. This region, until then virtually independent, was reduced to a state that enabled it to be annexed to the French Crown.

After the upheaval of the crusade against the Cathars, the bishop Bernard de Castanet, in the late 13th century, completed work on the Palais de la Berbie, a Bishops' Palace with the look of a fortress, and ordered the building of the impressive cathedral of Sainte-Cécile starting in 1282.

Source: Internet, city of Albi.

A brief biography.

Bernard de Castanet, - also Castagneto, Castaignet, Castaneto and Chatenier -, was born ca 1240 in Montpellier, – or Bas Rouergue -, France.  It is me unknown when and where he joined the Dominican Order. He obtained a doctorate in law at the University of Montpellier ca 1262.

He was Archdeacon of La Fenelet, Narbonne, and Archdeacon of the cathedral of Mallorca. Professor of civil law. Chaplain of Pope Gregory X. Auditor general of the Sacred Palace or of the Sacred Roman Rota in 1266. Archdeacon of Narbonne.

He was elected Bishop of Albi on 7 March 1276. The date of consecration is unknown.

 On August 15, 1282, he laid the first stone of the cathedral of Sainte-Cécile.

Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile in Albi.  

France 1944, Mi 636, Sc B189.



Construction on the Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile began in 1282 under the direction of Bernard de Castanet (1240-1317), who was Bishop of Albi and Chief Inquisitor. It was built as a defensive fortress and statement of strength after the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229), a holy war waged by the Catholic Church against the heretical Cathars and the count of Toulouse. Construction was mostly done by 1383, but the cathedral was not fully complete until 1492.


1133-1340, the east part of the cathedral was completed. The cathedral's great mass culminates at the west end in a great tiered belfry (1355-66), rising 78 meters into the sky.

The cathedral was consecrated on 23 April 1480. The tower is roughly square with rounded buttresses at the corner; each tier supported by a rounded quarter-arch and decorated with a quatrefoil railing. At the top is a newer octagonal portion (1485-92). The tower is nearly as wide as the nave, which has no side aisles. Viewed from the west, the cathedral looks a bit like a great pink rocket ship.

Along the roofline on all sides of the cathedral are white stone gargoyles, which were added during 19th-century restorations. Bishop Dominique de Florence (1394-1410) added the elaborate south porch, incorporating an earlier round tower, while the ornate, Flamboyant Gothic baldaquin over the south door dates from the 16th century.


Based on its sober, fortress-like exterior, one would expect the interior of Ste-Cécile to be austere, plain, and practical. However, the cathedral is literally covered in religious art on the inside. The walls, vault and side chapels are richly painted, the choir is enclosed inside an ornate screen, and sculptures stand on many of the pillars. The structure itself, however, is simple - a unified space with no side aisles.

The most interesting of all this decoration is the huge (16.4m x 15.6m) mural of The Last Judgment that covers both sides of the rounded west wall of the nave. Painted between 1474 and 1484 by unknown Franco-Flemish artists, it is considered one of the most important works of art of the late middle Ages. The painters of the Last Judgment were contemporaries of Hieronymus Bosch and some of the horrifying scenes of Hell are reminiscent of his work.

The scene is divided both vertically and horizontally: the Blessed are on the left and the Damned are on the right; Heaven is shown along the top, with the Resurrection of the Dead below, and Hell at the bottom. Interestingly, it lacks a Christ in Majesty, an element common to virtually all other medieval depictions of the theme. The vision of the underworld stars a variety of monstrous demons and suffering humans, organized around the theme of the Seven Deadly Sins. Labelled in Old French, they depict (from left to right): Pride, Envy, Wrath, Greed, Gluttony and Lust. Sloth is missing - maybe the painter did not get around to it!

The decorative murals on the nave walls date from c.1509-20 and have been restored several times. The vault frescoes are the largest (97 meters long by 28 meters wide) work of Italian Renaissance painting to be found anywhere in France. Commissioned by Louis II d'Amboise and dating from 1509 to 1512, the work was carried out by a team of Italian painters from Modena and Bologna. Set against a background of deep blue sky, the frescoes depict various designs, pastoral scenes, and major characters and events from the Old and New Testaments. Two sections are dedicated to Sante- Cécile, patron of the cathedral.

The large open space inside the cathedral was interrupted in the late 15th century with the addition of a rood screen surrounding the choir and a beautiful, Flamboyant Gothic jubé (c.1474-84) delicate carved from limestone.


The 15th-century choir screen is especially famed for its abundance of skilfully carved and painted statues. Dating from c.1480, these consist of 33 Old Testament figures, 15 New Testament figures: twelve Apostles with the Virgin, John the Baptist and St. Paul. 70 Angels and the Emperors Constantine and Charlemagne over the north and south entrances. Each figure is carefully sculpted with an attention to detail in both their expression and appearance.

Angel with posaune, sculpture of a choir stall.

France 2009, Mi 4595, Sc -.


The classical French organ, built by Christoph Moucherel in 1736 is considered one of the three finest in France.
There are many side chapels filling the niches beneath the buttresses, all of which are painted. One chapel has a polychrome replica of the sculpture of St. Cecilia's body from Santa Cecilia in Trastevere in Rome.

Another, in the north ambulatory, is called the Chapel of the Holy Cross and once contained a relic of the True Cross (destroyed in the Revolution). Its walls depict scenes from the legends of the Emperor Constantine and his mother Saint Helena, who is credited with finding the cross in Jerusalem. There are also portraits of Cardinal John Joffrey and his nephews Helion and John, each shown kneeling with his patron saint (Jerome, Cecilia and John the Evangelist respectively). All three are buried in the chapel.

Source: Internet.


Bernard de Castanet also founded the priory of the Dominicans, and secularized the cathedral chapter in 1297. Because of the hostility of Albigens, he had to retire to Annecy. Nuncio before Rudolf, King of the Romans. Envoy of Philippe le Bel to Rome to request the canonization of King Louis IX of France (25 April 1214-23 August 1270), which he obtained on August 11, 1297.

King Louis IX holding audience for the poor.   
France 1967, Mi 160 , Sc 1201.

In 1307-1308, Pope Clement V, who resided in Avignon since 1305,  had an inquiry made into a series of crimes attributed to Bishop de Castanet by two canons of the cathedral, who had presented at the Roman Curia a list of accusations against their spiritual ruler. The bishop was accused of pastoral negligence, of simony, of dilapidation, of irregularities and systematic cruelty in the practice of justice, of murders and of incontinence. Soon after the hearing by pontifical commissioners of a hundred and fourteen witnesses presented by the denouncers, the Pope called off the procedure. However, three days later, his implicitly penalized the Bishop, removing him from the see of Albi to that of Le Puy, which was much less prestigious. He transferred to the see of Le Puy July 30, 1308.

The consistory of December 17, 1316 created him cardinal bishop of Porto e Santa Rufina. He succeeded Pope John XXII in that suburbvicarian see; kept his see of Le Puy. Bernard de Castanet died on 14 August 1317 in Avignon.

He was buried in the cathedral of Avignon near the palace of the Popes.








Palace of the Popes in Avignon; at the left the cathedral.  c                                                                                                                                                                                  

                 France 1938, Mi 412, Sc 344.                                                                     France 2009, Mi       

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