The Two Personae of Albi Cathedral

Cathedral or fortress? Albi Cathedral – or as it is also known, the Cathedrale Saint Cecile, or the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Cecilia – is both of these. The largest brick building in the world, the smooth pinkish exterior is monolithic, forbidding, rising sheer in an impregnable mass from the streets of Albi.

But step inside, and you are in another world – a French gothic cathedral of intricate and delicate timber and stone work, terrifying frescoes of hell and heaven, a high blue vaulted ceiling, the light streaming like the finger of God through the tall windows. The contrast is extraordinary.

To give a sense of the sheer mass of the structure, the almost brutal power that it projects, its severity, and the way that it simply dominates its surroundings, I chose to present these images of the exterior walls and towers in black-and-white.

[click on images to enlarge]

Images of the interior, however, reveal, quite literally, a different side. I found it hard to reconcile the one with the other – here was one vast, overpowering structure, with two completely different personae.

Except, perhaps, for the hellfire and damnation, the violently expressive agonies and tortures, of the Dante-esque frescoes.

The frescoes might be the tunnel, I thought, the secret passageway, linking the one persona to the other.

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