St Sacerdos Cathedral, Sarlat-la-Canéda, Dordogne

St Sacerdos is a Roman catholic cathedral in the beautiful medieval market city of Sarlat in the Dordogne region of France. The cathedral has seen a great deal of reconstruction over the years. The east end of the cathedral dates back to the 14th century and was originally named Saint Sauveur Cathedral. The Great Nave is 17th century and dominates the modern building. The West End is the oldest part of the cathedral. It’s Romanesque tower was built to replace an earlier structure and is now capped by an 18th century belfry.

The Romanesque church of the Benedictine Abbey of Sarlat became a cathedral in 1317 when Pope John XXII former bishop of Cahors created the diocese of Sarlat, which lasted until it became part of the diocese of Périgueux in 1790. In 1505, Bishop Arnald of Gontaud-Biron asked the architect Pierre Esclache to rebuild the cathedral, and this was mainly achieved by master builder Blaise Bertrand. The construction was interrupted several times, sometimes because of lack of money and sometimes because of wars and epidemics. The vaults were built from 1682 to 1685 under Bishop François II de Salignac de Mothe-Fenelon, tutor to royalty and archbishop of Cambrai.

The church has been the property of the city of Sarlat since 1905 but it is entrusted to the Catholic parish which is responsible for its maintenance.

Inside the church are two large sections of tree trunks, bright with hundreds of brass tacks, hammered in for a suggested donation of 1 euro apiece. This is a relatively new phenomenon in the region, dating to no more than the last ten years. In this area of France, nails are considered to be lucky, and it’s possible to by chocolate nails to give as a gift to new house owners, although it’s not known whether there is any older tradition associated with nail trees, and enquiries continue in this regard.

The cathedral contains a fine array of masons’ marks on the north wall. They all take the same form, that of a mason’s hammer, and are all situated in the same line of blocks, but their different orientation indicates that these blocks were marked before the stones were laid, rather than after.

The pentagonal-shaped choir was completed in 1686 and has 6-rib-vaults and central key stones. Its five arches lead to what remains of the 14th century church. The stalls are decorated with original misericords. The tops of the choir stalls on the north side contain two items of interest, a set of concentric circles and a very faint daisy wheel.

On the north side there are two carved fleur de lis and, on the southern side, a very fine engraved owl and a fainter engraving of an man’s head, complete with cap.

A small statue of the Virgin Mary in a wall nice on the south side of the church is of interest for the decorative M in the ironwork. The use of that initial to denote Mary is common in the region.

There is a small amount of graffiti in the vicinity of the south door, both on the inside and the outside, as well as one small cross.

The wooden pulpit is of interest for the concentric circle design, a common motif on woodwork in the area.

Nearby in Sarlat is the Fontaine de Sainte-Marie, a popular devotional spot in the area, which forms part of a network of medieval watercourses that run under the town.

Report by Linda Wilson

St Sacerdos Cathedral
Place du Peyrou

The cathedral is normally open during daylight hours throughout the year. There are several public car parks in the vicinity of the town, but these become very crowded in July and August.

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