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Oloron-Sainte-Marie

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Published on Dec 15, 2006

Oloron is the last town in France before the crossing of the Pyrenees along the Aspe valley and over the Somport Pass into Spain. The cathedral dates from the early twelfth century and the Crusading spirit of the day is amply borne out in the iconography of the porch sculpture. At the base of the trumeau are two chained Saracens, condemned like Atlant figues to support the structure above. The central image of the tympanum is of the Descent from the Cross which is lent an Apocalyptic dimension, as so often in Romanesque art of the pilgrimage roads by the surrounding Elders of the Apocalypse. Significantly, to the left is the androphagous figure of the Leviathan and very unusually opposite on the right, an Imperial Horseman crushing a figure underfoot. Horsemen such as this are a common feature in the Poitou region but unkown this far south. Usually considered to be a reference to the Christian emperors Constantine and Charlemagne, the presence of the horseman at Oloron and the chained Saracens below must reflect a close connection between pilgrimage and crusading and the location of Oloron as a gateway to the armed conflict in Spain of the Reconquest Crusades there.

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