From Vikings to Crusaders
Do you love to wander around cathedrals bathed in the sparkling light of stained-glass windows, placing a hand on ancient stonework? Then we recommend the cathedrals at Lescar and Oloron. They are just 40 minutes apart by car. To architectural visits separated by the rolling countryside of Béarn, its rivers and vines.
During the 11th and 12th centuries Béarn rebuilt her towns which had been destroyed by the Viking, including Lescar and Oloron-Sainte-Marie. And so commenced the slow journey of this country towards power and riches. It was at this time that construction of the cathedral of Lescar was started, otherwise known as the Cathedral of the Kings of Navarre and classified as a Historical Monument. At this period the country was still sparsely populated and the monks created their monasteries in the forests growing into new villages (Lucq, Larreule, Sauvelade).
Lescar cathedral which was built in the 12th century is the very height of Romanesque art in Béarn. So it offers an opportunity to immerse yourself in the Middle Ages with its sculpted capitals, mosaic hunting scenes without forgetting the famous little moorish hunter which made the cathedral famous. Henri IV's grandparents are buried there.
Then Protestantism was to be the new religion in Béarn and you can see in the cathedral affirmations of Catholicism which date from the Counter- Reformation (paintings in the apse dedicated to Mary and wooden sculpted pews from the 17th century)
The Spoils of the Crusades
Construction of the Cathedral of Oloron Sainte-Marie was started in 1102 using the spoils brought back from the Crusades and the Reconquest by vicomte Gaston IV le Croisé. This cathedral is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a cultural property under the "Chemins de St Jacques de Compostelle en France" label, the pilgrim route to Compostela. It bears witness to the episcopal past of the town. Its Romanesque sculpted typan alone is enough to support its fame. It is the work of two master sculptors in the 12th century. The cathedral has within it a wealth of rich items, the priestly vestments worn by the Bishops of Oloron-Sainte-Marie in silk, and damask and brocades of gold and silver, pieces of jewellery, an exceptional font which is one of the most remarkable in France. Two cathedrals and two unmissable sites and all within the Béarn vineyards.