A neo-Romanesque façade was raised in the nineteenth century to replace an earlier one considered too modest for the building. A local architect, M. Bègue, is entrusted with the plans. He abandons his initial project of a Gothic façade, submitting to the decision of the parish priest who opts for a Romanesque style more in keeping with the Fenestrelle tower. But the seventeenth-century façade can still be seen behind the entrance door.
The cathedral's history is written in its stones. A place of worship is believed to have stood there at the time of the Visigoths and to have been destroyed by either the Saracens or the Hungarians. It was rebuilt in the Romanesque style. The Fenestrelle tower dates from about this period. The Cathare are thought to have set in alight in 1177. Once again, the cathedral had to be restored.
The cathedral was rebuilt in 1644 and consecrated in 1663. The inside is very simply laid out, to comply with the requirements of the Counter-Reformation: a well-lit nave allowed all the faithful to follow the ceremony and hear the sermon. The first-floor galleries, lined with superb wrought-iron balusters, were destined to receive the newly converted. (Visitors to the city will come across a good many finely-wrought iron balconies and gates in the course of their wanderings). On the left-hand-side, beyond the baptismal fonts, are the relics of Saint Firmin, which had vanished during the Reformation and were found again quite by chance after the Revolution. They were brought back to Uzès in 1873.
The painting showing the Deposition was presented to the town by Louis XIII. It would be hard to imagine just how sumptuously decorated the interior must have been prior to the Revolution: the tapestries, the railing once separating the nave from the choir, the canvases, the canons' stalls, the statues, the rich grey and gold furniture.
Of all this there remains nothing but the organ, restored in 1964 and with its original decoration. High up on its loft, it spreads out its richly-worked case and shutters painted in their original colours. Organists and music-lovers come from far afield to listen to the instruments faithful rendering of seventeenth and eighteenth-century works.
lt must have taken years to build the Fenestrelle tower, the only campanile tower of Lombard style to be found anywhere in France. Begun at the end of the eleventh century, it escaped the various destructions. The floors become lighter and lighter as they go up and make you think of stone lacework. This tower is unlikely to have been the only one. Indeed, remains at the north end of the church show that a second tower once stood there.
When the Catholics have practically all left the town in 1653, ail places of worship are pulled down. All but the tower, saved from destruction once more.
Texts by Anne Vié (The Duchy of Uzès, Ajax Monaco Editions). Some pics by MVF.