At the heart of the old centre, the Notre-Dame collegiate church watches over Villefranche-de-Rouergue from the top of its 58 meters high. heritage gem of Aveyron, this great gothic church is emblematic of the town.
A building with a tormented history
300 years, minimal! This is the time it took for this stone giant to reach its current 58 meters. Nevertheless, the project of the consuls of Villefranche-de-Rouergue was much larger: 88 meters. This height would have allowed the city to symbolically exceed the other large bell tower of Aveyron, that of the Notre-Dame cathedral built by the bishop of Rodez.
Started a few years after the founding of the country house by the Count of Toulouse, Alfonso of Poitiers, and the seneschal Jean d'Arcis, in the middle of the XNUMXth century, the site was successively interrupted by disagreements with the episcopal authority of Rodez, by the Hundred Years War, by epidemics, by disagreements between the consuls and by bad weather conditions.
Visit the monument
Classified as “Historical Monuments”, the Notre-Dame collegiate church can be visited freely every day of the year. It is included in the guided tour of the old center offered by the tourist office.
In July and August, take the time to climb the 163 steeple steps to reach the passageway overlooking the city. You will have a amazing views on the surrounding nature, the Dardenne house, the clock fountain and the colorful market stalls on Thursday morning, market day. Your cultural discovery will be accompanied by the sweet melodies of chime, one of the most beautiful in the south-west of France, with its 58 bells.
A course in architecture(s)
Although the building seems at first glance quite homogeneous, it is actually made up of three distinct blocks. These architectural differences respond to the length of the site and to various construction times, where the wishes of the builders were not always the same.
The oldest part is the choir, pentagonal, with its large lancets rising to the vault. two of five stained glass were offered by the King of France, Charles VII, in the middle of the fifteenth century. Responding to the precepts of radiant Gothic, from Ile-de-France, this part is opposed to the nave, larger and more massive, agreeing with the darker and more defensive southern constructions.
The most recent part is at the level of the porch, characteristic of flamboyant Gothic. Relatively sober, it conceals a multitude of small sculptures. Monkeys, rabbits and hedgehogs sway on oak leaves topped with acorns. The curved arch of its portal refers to the decorations of candles and flames found on the large bay at the top.
An exceptional movable heritage
The jewel of the Notre-Dame de Villefranche-de-Rouergue collegiate church holds in its set of stalls, rare in the Occitanie region. Made in the second half of the XNUMXth century, they were reserved for the civil and religious authorities of the city, the population sitting in the nave. Its flamboyant decorations hide mercies quite intriguing. Animals, fantastic creatures, popular expressions and scenes of everyday life refer to an ideal of thought specific to the end of the Middle Ages.
The building can also boast of having two organs, the majestic gallery organ surmounting the entrance and the choir organ in a side chapel. In the north arm of the transept, a marble medallion representing the Visitation is attributed to the school of Pierre Puget, one of the most influential sculptors of the reign of Louis XIV. Formerly occupying the choir of the collegiate church, the Virgin and Child in silver laminated wood is also an exceptional work. Finally, the building houses a representation of the Completely symbolic Christ, the first glance of which may surprise you.