Our 2012 CATHEDRAL QUEST to France, Day 10 Le Puy en Valay .


Day 10, Sept 12 

Clermont- Avignon

After a delicious breakfast, we left Alain and Mariecke’s home about 10:00 and headed south.  The road from the outskirts of Clermont began getting narrower and narrower and very curvy, up and down hill.  The GPS said that we were on the right road.   Eventually we got on a better two lane road which went through a lot of small villages - we heard the mooing in the car (we have our GPS set so that there is a cow mooing sound if we go over the speed limit) several times.    The amazing thing about these little towns is that you never see anyone.   All of the houses are right on the road but there are never any people.  It began to rain.  It rained heavily off and on with some fog.

It took us 2 hours to get to Le Puy en Velay.  It  is a city of about 21,000 people in the Auvergne region of South Central France. There was a lot of traffic in the town.  There are three very interesting “attractions” in Le Puy-  the cathedral, a huge statue of Mary, and St. Michael’s chapel.  They are built on top of a volcanic dolomite or pillar. 

Our trusty TomTom had the directions to the cathedral so we went up hill on some extremely narrow streets.  We turned left and went a few feet to find the remainder of the street torn up.  We had to back out on to the little busy street that we had just left.  It was quite an adventure.  We were having very little success getting close to where we wanted to go.  We saw a sign for Office of Tourism and headed towards it.  The rain was beginning to slacken.  We found a parking place and went to the office.  They said it was about a 7 minute walk up the hill.  It was noon, and we were hungry.  Next to the tourist office was a nice little restaurant – when I say "little" - it had  only four tables.  I was very beautifully appointed.  I had gnocchi on a thin piece of ham with a delicious mushroom sauce.  Kathleen had a wonderful omelete.  Most of the places, we have eaten have been very small but had excellent food.


 Le Puy has been a religious center since ancient times, thanks in part to its mystical landscape of volcanic  pinnacles. The city itself owes its existence to the cathedral on the hill consecrated to the Virgin Mary, while the rock needle just outside of town was consecrated to the Roman god Mercury before being dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. Since the Middle Ages Le Puy has been a major place of pilgrimage in its own right (Charlemagne visited twice) as well as a starting point of pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims are still blessed in the Cathedral every morning at 7 AM before they set off on their journey.  

 According to an interesting legend dating from the 8 century, a woman in Le Puy, suffering from a fever in the first century, was inspired by a vision to visit the rock on which the Cathedral now stands. There she fell into a feverish sleep. When she awoke her fever was gone, and she saw the Virgin Mary sitting on a dolmen next to her. The Virgin said she wanted the church to be built in that place. Although it was July, several inches of snow covered the ground, and a stag marked out the floor plan of a huge church with its hooves.

 St. George was then the Bishop of Le Puy, and he came to see the miracle for himself. He wished to obey the Virgin's request, but he has no money for such a grand church. So he decided to plant a thorn hedge over the ground plan until such funding could be found. The next day, the hedge bloom with flowers.

Some time pasted and another healing occurred. The Bishop (now a man named Vozy) therefore went to Rome to ask for permission to build a Cathedral on the site. It was granted, and the Pope provided a Roman architect to build it. When it was completed, the Bishop set out for Rome again to arrange its consecration, but two old man appeared to him on the way and said quote "we shall go before you and take charge of all". Returning to the Cathedral, Bishop Vozy founded it bathed in strange light, it's bells ringing by unseen hands.


  The Rock on which the Cathedral stands, and known as Mount Anis or Corneilie Rock, was originally a Celtic and then a Roman pagan site. The dolmen that figures in early Christian legend is a remnant of the ancient pagan shrine. A Roman temple was built there in the first century A.D., dedicated to a local God at Adido and the Emperor Augustus. Built near a sacred spring, it incorporated the dolmen. This Temple was destroyed in the early 400sn by order of the Christian Roman emperors.  

 The first Cathedral on Mount Anis was begun in 415 A.D. by Bishop Scutarius of Le Puy. The Bishop was clearly a strong believer in the power of the dolmen, for he incorporated in his Cathedral at a time when toleration of paganism meant immediately excommunication Bishop Scutarius build his church on the ruins of the Roman temple, incorporating some of its masonry. The church had a single nave of two bays and measured 40 x 80'. The side aisles were added in the 6 century, using ancient Roman tombstones in the walls.  Bishop Scutarius tomb is in the south aisle. To accommodate increasing number of pilgrims, the Cathedral was lengthened to the West by a third Bay some time before 1000 A.D. and a fourth bay was added in the 11th century. Finally in the 12th century the last two Western bays were added. A major restoration was carried out in the 19th century.

It had stopped raining so we hiked up the hill There are 134 steps up to the Cathedral and they run right through the floor and come out at the altar. It is hard to describe what it felt like to stand at the bottom of the hill and look up, see the tiny set of steps, and know that if you wanted to see the Cathedral, you had to walk up.  There is supposed to be a back entrance where you don’t have to climb all those steps but we couldn’t find it.   We, with bad knees and hips, decided to do it.   Most of the way did not have hand rails, but we made it.

The façade of the Cathedral is divided into three parts both horizontally and vertically, is black and gray volcanic stone is enriched by striped arches and mosaic decorations at the top. It has three tall open portals which leads into a very large porch. The center portal contains the famed Cedar Doors, which despite their name are carved of pinewood. These doors from the 12th century shows strong Arab influence, which would have been derived from both contact with Muslim Spain and the Crusades.

In everything that we read about this cathedral, before and after our visit, it was noted that in the middle ages the stairway continued all the way to the middle of the nave, emerging in front of the choir screen. Of this unusual arrangement a friar famously commented, "you use to enter the church of our Lady through the naval and come out through ears". Everything that I read about said  that the layout was changed in 1781 when central stairway was walled up and a right hand stairway was adapted to lead to the south aisle. Sometime in recent years this wall was removed and the stairway continued through the floor ending in front of the altar as it originally did. We enjoyed seeing this feature.  

The Le Puy Cathedral has a simple floor plan of a Latin cross, with three aisles and a transept the nave ceiling, which has six large cupolas instead of the usual vault this is an example of strong Byzantine influence. The cupola owes rest on octagonal bases made of striped arches. Please have a look at my model of Le Puy Cathedral.


The altar has 18th-century bronze statues and the 18th-century copy of the famous black Virgin.






 About three fourths of the distance to the West wall was a huge pipe organ.






We had hoped to find alternate way to our car, but had to climb down all of those steps, which was "great fun".








We spent about 45 minutes and walked down again.  At the bottom of the hill we saw a small group of schoolchildren dressed in pink robes with animal heads on their shields. We took a number of pictures of them.




Further down the hill we ran into another group of children in costume.





We had not seen any evidence of restrooms, but were amused with a sign indicating a dog WC

We were watching our time and knew that we had four more hours driving before reaching Avignon so we left about 3:00 and didn’t get to see the statue or the chapel which had about 300 steps up to it.





It started to rain again, and we were still on little two lane roads.   All of sudden we saw a road sign for a 10% grade – what a grade it was! -  down and down and around and round on the side of a mountain for many, many miles.  I have driven nothing like it before even the mountains of West Virginia seem like little hills.


We finally reached Avignon at 7:00 p.m. and checked into our hotel.  It is rather new and is part of the Mercure chain.  We have a huge bedroom and a separate sitting room.   Our room is on the corner and out one window we can see part of the Palace of Popes and  out the other window we can see the arch before the famous bridge Pont d’Avignon.


We had an 8:00 dinner reservation in a well known and highly recommended restaurant - Fou de FaFa.  It was about a 10 minute walk through the old city.   Again it was a very small restaurant with only 9 tables – only 2 of the tables for 4.  We have had our reservations for months.  They kept turning people away.  The restaurant is owned by a young couple from England.  We had a delicious meal.  I began with a chicken liver pate and Kathleen had goat cheese.  We both had fish.  The dinner was beautifully presented and very delicious.  I had a tiramisu for dessert and Kathleen had sorbets.   It all took a very long time.  People in Europe are in no hurry to eat and meals go on for hours.  If you ate two big meals a day that would be all you would get done. 

It had been a long day of driving with some bad weather so we were ready for bed.



Day 1 - Paris

Day 2 - Sens

Day 3 - Vezelay 

Day 4 - Abbey Fontenay, Semur-en-Auxois, Vezelay -

Day 5 - Beaune

Day 6 - Beaune, Autun, Citeaux, Chateau du Clos Vougeot-

Day 7 - Cluny  

Day 8 - Cluny 

Day 9 - Paray-le-Monial and Clermont-Ferrard

Day 10 - Le Puy-en-Velay 

Day 11 - Avignon 

Day 12 - Avignon to Nimes

Day 13 - Avignon

Day 14 - Marseille

Day 15 - Marseille

Day 16 - Marseille

Day 17 - Marseille to Aigues-Mortes

Day 18 - Carcassonne 

Day 19 - Carcassonne to Toulouse  (posted 10/6/15)

Day 20 - Toulouse

Day 21 - Albi

Day 22 - Toulouse