Step two – A church, a garden and a castle

19 Aug

Having more time meant we had the chance to spend some visiting specific places, not just strolling around. We remember from our first time a few interesting things and now here we were……First we stopped to visit the Cathedral, four years ago the Mass was held and we couldn’t have a deep look inside….

Uzès Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Théodorit d’Uzès) is a former Roman Catholic cathedral, now a parish church, dedicated to Saint Theodoritus. It was formerly the seat of the Bishops of Uzès, until the diocese was abolished under the Concordat of 1801 and its territory passed to the Diocese of Avignon. In 1877 the territory of the former diocese of Uzès was removed from that of Avignon and added to the Diocese of Nîmes, now the Diocese of Nîmes, Uzès and Alès.

The present building, which was gutted during the French Revolution, and after repair and with the addition of a 19th-century Neo-classical façade is now used as a parish church, dates from the 17th century, and was a rebuild of the previous cathedral, which was destroyed during the French Wars of Religion. That cathedral in its turn had been built to replace a still earlier one which had been destroyed in the 12th century during the Albigensian Crusade. The campanile, the well-known Tour Fenestrelle, is the only part to survive from the medieval structure, although it was previously taller by two storeys.

The interiors were nothing I could have expected, so different from the churches we have in Italy. The balustrade makes this church more alike to a royal palace….

In the reliquary, St. Firmin, Bishop of Uzès from 538 to 553…

After the church, we walked to the castle complex, to have a look at the Medieval Garden….

A part of the castle that includes the Rainon Tower, called the Clock Tower, was sold to the Bishops in the thirteenth century; the other tower was exchanged with King Charles VIII of France in the fifteenth century. Both had their courts and prisons. The rooms served as prisons until 1926, when Uzes lost its status as sub-prefecture. Later they were transformed into reserve space, municipal workshops as well as residences. Abandoned for decades, the restored rooms come alive again through the creation of the Garden in medieval style in 1995.

This garden is a living herbarium. 450 varieties of plants live together and illustrate the many uses that were made of plants in the Middle Ages. The plants’ virtues are ambivalent, labels allow them to be discovered and to differentiate them. Nature does not always respect the established order; the garden plants coexist with some “weeds” and host insects.

In the garden sometimes there are also exhibitions of different kinds, at the time of our visit there was a young local painter vernissage….

Off to the castle nearby….

The Duchy of Uzès is built on an old Roman “Castrum” (camp) which became the residence of the Governor in the first millennium. These wooden constructions have not survived. We do know that Dhuoda, Duchess of Septimanie was exiled here by her husband Bernard in the middle of the ninth century, and that she was the first woman in the Occident to write a book. It was a manual for the education of her son, and it still exists. The architecture of the Duke’s chateau, named the Duchy is a potted history of France. The Middle-Ages, the Renaissance, the 17th century, and modern times are all there. Despite this, the ensemble is pleasing to the eye.

During the difficult times of the Revolution the building was considered as belonging to the nation, and sold. It was much misused, and ended as a school. In 1824 the Duke bought back the Duchy of Uzès from the townspeople (the writer André Gide was one of them) who in buying it had actually protected it. In 1834 a new school was build in Uzes and the Duke set about restoring the Duchy of Uzès. The first part of the 20th century saw sad days for the Duchy of Uzès. In financial difficulty, the Duke sold the furnishings and rented the Duchy of Uzès to the Board of Education who once again installed a school. They did not fulfil their obligation to care for the building and concreted both inside and out. From 1951 the widowed Marchioness of Crussol set about restoring the Duchy of Uzès that she had re-acquired with the help of the Fine Arts Ministry. Aided by her friend André Malraux, Minister of Culture under General de Gaulle, whom she had met in her Political Society Gatherings, she had the town of Uzes classed in 1964 as a heritage site, which greatly helped it after two centuries of being forgotten. Her grandson and his wife, the present Duke and Duchess of Uzes, are continuing the work started by the Marchioness. Since then major work has been done to the building, and furnishings and objects are regularly added to enrich the collections for the pleasure of the visitor. The Duchy of Uzès is a rare example in the 21st century of a family castle being completely restored.

The visit is limited, you can see a lot but not everything because it’s still a private residence….lucky them…There have been some interesting characters to hold the title through the years, including the Duchess Anne, who was initially the heir to the Veuve Cliquot fortune (some fine bottles are in the cave), an adamant huntress who rode until the age of 86, the year before she died. She was also the first woman in France to get a driver’s license and the first to get a speeding ticket too….

The Duchy of Uzès, often called the First Duchy of France, is France’s oldest ducal peerage. The Viscounty of Uzes was elevated to Duchy in 1565, and to the Peerage in 1572 by Charles 1X. Ever since then, the Duke of Uzes, 1st Peer of France, Count of Crussol, Prince of Soyons, takes precedence over all other noble houses of France, both in Parliament and at Coronations. At Court, after the extinction of the Duchy of Montmorency under Louis XIII in 1632, only the Duchy of Trémoille, created in 1563 had precedence, until it became extinct at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, Jacques de Crussol d’Uzes is the 17th Duke.

The Crussol of Uzes coat of arms is emblazoned as seen here in the carpet….. The shield was established by Antoine de Crussol, 1st Duke of Uzes and it has not changed since. The family motto “Ferro non auro” means “iron not gold” as the family comes from a line of warriors rather than from finance.

The entry fee of 18€ (about $20) includes a visit to the private chapel and the cave, a little expensive but….what the hell….

The best part of the visit was from the top of the castle “donjon” (the keep)….exhausting but worth it…

This was the end of our stay in Uzès….for now at least, because the region is worth another visit for sure….

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Posted by on August 19, 2016 in Uncategorized


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