After the death of Saint Privat and the miracles said to have taken place in the vicinity of the crypt where he was laid to rest, the town of Mende quickly became a very popular destination for pilgrims. It was not long before a church was built over Saint Privat's crypt.
Pope Urban V was born in the same area (in Grizac) and decided to have Mende Cathedral rebuilt and enlarged in 1368, along the lines of Gothic architecture.
However, on his death, economic circumstances brought a halt to the building work, and the cathedral remained with only its nave intact for the next sixty years.
Work did not restart until 1452; the chancel was built and completed in 1467. The stained glass windows were fitted in the chancel in 1468, the same year two spans were added to the building.
François de la Rovère oversaw the building of a stone bell tower.
Inside, he hung two great bells, the first being named 'Marie-Thérèse' or 'Non Pareille', which weighed in at 500 quintals, and the second, 'Jean', which weighed around 400 quintals.
Almost one hundred years later in 1579 (in the middle of the French Wars of Religion), the cathedral's period of improvement came to an abrupt halt, when captain Mathieu Merle invaded the town and destroyed the cathedral (the vault and northern part collapsed), leaving only the bell towers intact.
It was a further 20 years before Henry IV undertook to rebuild it, and in 1607 the large-scale works were completed, apart from the rose window built into the western facade in 1608.
The cathedral was twice struck by lightening, in 1732 and 1784. In 1732, one of the turrets of the tall bell tower was destroyed (it would be rebuilt in 1745), and in 1784, the top of the spire was damaged.
After all these years when any work on the cathedral was aimed more at repairing it than actually enhancing it, the period from 1868 to 1906 saw it benefit from improvements of the more decorative kind.
Central to the brief given to the architects was the importance of restoring to the cathedral the Gothic harmony which had been gradually lost over the series of repairs carried out in the 17th Century.
The great side doors were installed, the bishops' funeral vault roof was rebuilt, along with the chancel's paving and mosaics, the windows in the upper nave were built, the western porch was added, and the facade and rose window were restored.
Inside, the cathedral has some wonderful objects, including its Black Madonna (a reliquary Virgin in majesty sculpted from olive wood) from the Auvergne's great tradition of Black Madonnas, documented as far back as 1219, the year she was brought back by the Crusades from the Middle East.
Other objects worth seeing before you leave are the organs, built by the Eustache brothers in 1653, and the 8 Aubusson tapestries dating back to 1708, which tell the story of the Virgin's life from their position above the chancel.
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Thanks to its various chapels, its 25m high arches, its sacristy, and its two steeples, the city centre cathedral is now a listed historic monument.© Samuel Magal - age fotostock
The cathedral features many adornments and gargoyles, each associated with the history of the cathedral and its construction.© Samuel Magal - age fotostock
As is the case with any other religious building, this one boasts a plethora of stained glass windows, each depicting a specific religious scene.© Samuel Magal - age fotostock
Inside the cathedral you'll find various bells, organs, tapestries, paintings, and even the Black Virgin, to which the Mende people have devoted an actual cult.© Samuel Magal - age fotostock