The city of Clermont-Ferrand in Central France was the site of one of the most important moments in the history of the Church. Prior to the Second Council of Clermont in 1095, Catholicism and the Papacy were purely religious entities, though with enormous influence over Christian Europe. After the council, the Church was transformed into a major world power that sought to spread its influence through more direct means. The great, stone-black Cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand stands in testament to this phenomenally important moment in Church, and world, history.
The city of Clermont-Ferrand in Central France boasts a very ancient and colorful history. Christianity probably arrived here in the 2nd or 3rd century AD, and the city has been a bishopric ever since the 5th century. It was also home to one of France’s earliest major cathedrals, which was described in an account by Gregory of Tours. Sidonius Apollinaris was one of Clermont’s most famous early bishops. In addition to being a prominent writer, he was also a valiant leader in the defense of the city against the Goths in 474.
Clermont hosted several Church councils. The first, in 535, established a number of rules and regulations pertaining to the clergy, relations with the Jews, and other issues, many of which remain in force to the present day. The early Middle Ages were a turbulent period for the Christians of Clermont and its cathedral. The cathedral was sacked and destroyed twice, once by the Franks in 760, and once by the Normans in 915.
The city of Clermont and its cathedral made their great mark in Christian history in 1095. In November of that year, the Second Council of Clermont was held, and presided over by the Pope himself, Urban II. This council, a follow-up to the Council of Piacenza, was convened primarily to address the growing threat of the Seljuk Turks, who were then overrunning the Middle East and threatening the ancient Byzantine Empire.
The emperor had personally sent an appeal to aid from the Christians of Western Europe, and it was at the Council of Clermont that the Roman Catholic Church made its answer. On November 27, Urban II addressed a great assembly, and called for volunteers to take up the Cross and defend the Byzantine Empire from the Saracens. The scope of this effort quickly grew into the First Crusade, with the ultimate aim of liberating Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Although the current Cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand largely dated from after the council, it is a powerful reminder of this transformational moment in the history of Catholicism.
The Cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand is one of the most distinctive anywhere. Very few cathedrals stand out from the surrounding neighborhood as this one does. Built of black volcanic rock, the catheral absolutely dominates the sea of white-bricked, red-roofed houses and buildings nearby. The church’s most memorable exterior features are the towering, extremely delicate looking twin spires that flank the façade. An early rose window is set above the cathedral’s main entrance. A statue of Urban II preaching the First Crusade stands in a park next to the church.
The interior of the cathedral is traditional Gothic architecture. Thanks to the efforts of a persuasive clergyman, the cathedral was largely spared the ravages of the French Revolution, and with few exceptions appears at did during the Middle Ages. This includes some of the best-preserved medieval frescoes in France. The oldest part of the cathedral is the crypt, which actually survived from the previous incarnation of the church.
The Cathedral of Clermont-Ferrand is located in the very heart of Clermont’s old city, approximately 250 miles due south of Paris. It is open Mondays through Fridays from 7:30am-6:00pm and Weekends from 9:30am-7:30pm (closed for lunch all days from noon-2:00pm). There is no cost for admission. Web: http://cathedrale-catholique-clermont.cef.fr (official website)
The cathedral is not the only great historic church in the city. Nearby is its ancient rival, the Basilica of Notre-Dame du Port, which was also destroyed and rebuilt several times. It may have even witnessed some of the events of the Council of Clermont as the basilica is older than the cathedral and was partially completed and in use by the time of the famous meeting.