We had a walk and a picnic lunch this week at a village called St Bertand de Commings in the Pryenees on the way to Spain to buy olive oil, wine and tobacco (the last item not for us )which are all cheaper there in varying degrees. . We had been there before but wanted to look at the ruins of a Roman town which spreads out below the hill. The main center of the town had been excavated some time in the recent past but was in need of bit of attention, some of the information boards had been damaged by rain and some broken which would not cost a fortune to replace. We enjoyed walking around the bits of the town we could see, it once housed 30,000 people so there must be a lot more buried under the surrounding fields. It was founded 72 BC by the roman general Pompey on his way back from Spain I am sure he too bought back olive oil and wine but probably not tobacco. The notorious King Herod slayer of John the Baptist and the famous hand washing incident was exiled there in 39 AD, not a bad place to end up I thought I could think of a lot worse. The town survived for around 400 years until wiped out by marauding Germanic tribes from the north, the survivors retreated up the hill for another 100 years or so building the first christian church until another load of Germans arrived and finished them off. Nothing much happened for the next 500 years until Bertrand arrived in 1073, the son of noble family and Canon of Toulouse he was created bishop of the area and decided it was a nice spot and built his cathedral on top of the hill it was completed in the 12th century.
For his saintly deeds he was canonized in 1218 his tomb soon attracted pilgrims and still does, another Bishop Bertrand arrived at the end of the 13th century expanding the church to its present form, he later became pope Clement V. We didn’t visit the cathedral on this visit as Spain and shopping beckoned, I will go back for another look last time in high summer it was crowded and we were a bit rushed, the carved choir stalls are superb some of the best in France. One carving depicts an Abbott caning a bare bottomed monk which is worth the entrance fee alone.