La Cathedrale Notre Dame des Doms, AvignonAvignon's cathedral sits in the mighty complex of buildings on the Rocher des Doms overlooking the city.

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This whole area, Avignon's centre of power, is really commanded by the Palais des Papes, which somewhat steals the cathedral's thunder.

Notre Dame des Doms feels a little squeezed in between the Palais des Papes and the Petit Palais. Nonetheless the great church - also sometimes known locally as La Métropole - is an imposing structure.

Closed for two and a half years for a 3.6 million €uro facelift, Notre Dame des Doms reopened in 2016. When we went to see the result shortly afterwards, we found this church totally transformed since our previous visit.

Once dark and dingy, the ivory-coloured stonework in the entrance, nave and choir has been cleaned. Flooded with light, the interior of the church now looks radiant and hidden sculptures and paintings have been revealed. Pictured: the choir and altar since the restoration.

cathedral avignon interior 2016Historians believe a basilica stood on this spot in the fourth century. This was destroyed by the Saracens in the year 731.

The first version of Notre Dame des Doms was built and consecrated on 8 October 1111, though it has been much expanded and restored since then.

The origins of the name are seen variously as coming from the Latin domus episcopali meaning "from the Bishop's house", or from the Rocher des Doms, the high rock which rises above the cathedral.

Its basic style is provençal Romanesque, with touches influenced by Greek and Roman architecture and later embellishments in the Gothic and baroque traditions. Many of the inner chapels were added in the early 14th century during the papacy of John XXII, the second of the Avignon Popes.

He lies here in a Flamboyant Gothic tomb, still ornate despite being damaged during the French Revolution.

Like many of France's churches, Notre Dame des Doms suffered severely in this period, and for a while was used as a prison. It was restored as a church in the early 19th century.

The steeple was topped in 1859 by a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary that comes across as a less successful version of the one that crowns Marseille's Notre Dame de la Garde. Over the years, bells have been donated to what is today an impressive 35-strong carillon.

cathedral avignon interiorAvignon's cathedral also boasts a huge octagonal dome (pictured), two organs, a 12th century marble throne used by the Popes and a treasury of religious objects, reliquaries and vestments in the chapel devoted to John XXII.

Mass is celebrated each morning and the cathedral takes an active role each summer in the Festival d'Avignon.

Entrance is free of charge. Notre Dame des Doms may not be one of Avignon's most famous sights, but it's well worth a look.

Where: La Cathédrale Notre Dame des Doms, place du Palais, 84000 Avignon. Website for La Cathédrale Notre Dame des Doms

Photo credits: all images © SJ for Marvellous Provence.

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