Free visit - Saint Peter Church
In 843, the city of Prades - in latin "Villa Prata" - was given by the Carolingian king Charles the Bald to Suniefred, Count of Cerdagne. Five years later, Suniefred, for the safety and the salute of its soul decided to endow the Abbey of Lagrasse (in actual French department of Aude) with several donations, including the city of Prades.
This donation was effective until 1589, when the city passed under Spanish domination and became a Spanish royal city.
In 1659, Louis XIV signed the "Treaty of the Pyrenees", France thus annexing Roussillon. After the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), Prades became a French city. The rupture between the Roussillon and Catalonia did not happen suddenly though. It took time, and still today many traditions endure, many cultural exchanges still taking place between the French region and Catalonia (north of Spain).
The primitive church was first mentionned in 843, in the different acts by which the king donated the city of Prades, its churches and outbuildings. The old church was placed successively under the triple protection of Saint John, Saint Rescuer and Saint Peter. Before eventually sticking with its actual name from the 12th century to nowadays : the church “Saint Peter of Prades”.
The actual church is from the 17th century : it was built between 1606 and 1686. From the former church, only but the bell tower remains, from the 12th century, in Romanic style, as well as a part of the south facade.
The inside of the church contrasts with its outside. From austere dark and almost medieval outside we step in a floodlit and rich inside, where the baroque style dominates. The architecture of this church may seem singular : it’s a big nave of about 55 meters long (180 ft), 13 meters wide (42 ft) and 17 meters high (55 ft). It is flanked by 14 chapels, which seems quite a lot compared to the main abbeys nearby : Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa and Saint-Martin-du-Canigou.
The transept seems to be smaller than in conventional churches. The use of marble is omnipresent here, considered as an expensive and prestigious material. This rare stone is to be found nearby in Villefranche-de-Conflent's quarries of pink marble. For the personal worship, it seems to be a big advantage that the church of Prades possesses so many chapels. As we can see many patron saints and saints' defenders are represented in the chapels, helping the faithful in their daily life.
Patron Saints of shoemakers and tanners, there used to be a lot in Prades : Saint Crépin and Saint Crépinien.
Patron Saint of farmers, called upon to bring the rain : Saint Gaudérique.
Patron Saint of pupils, also called "hurry saint", to obtain fast results : Saint Expedit.
And eventually, invoked to find lost objects : Saint Antoine of Padoue.
The masterpiece of this church is the main altarpiece. Pearl of the Spanish baroque art from the 17th century. This impressive work was realized by the Catalan sculptor, Joseph Sunyer. This altarpiece is today considered as the biggest baroque altarpiece of France. Built within less than 3 years, between January 1697 and September 1699.
Sunyer came from the Catalan village of Manresa, in Spain. He had been trained by the great masters, like Luis Generes, sculptor of the altarpiece of the Trinity which can also be found here in the church of Prades. The work of Sunyer is singular : you can as well admire it in Collioure or Vinça's churches. It’s also the last testimony from the Spanish baroque partially disappeared during civil war.
This baroque art - from Portuguese "barroco" - was born after the catholic Counter-Reformation, which calls on the emotion of the spectator. The greatness, the importance given to drapes and details, can be found here in the altarpiece of Sunyer.
Peter the apostle is represented in the middle, dressed as the Pope, the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church whom aims to be triumphant of the "Protestant heresy". Four big scenes represent the life of Saint Peter : "The crucifixion", "The cure of the lame", "I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven", to which are added 2 small scenes representing the walking on waters.
The 12 apostles are represented, among us, Saint Thomas is at the very top of the altarpiece, above the Virgin Mary and God. Certainly punished for his doubt and scepticism, "I believe only what I see", also called as patron saint of the architects.
Eventually, notice the importance given to details and decorations, all of them in a mountain register type : cocks, fruits, vine representation...
Whereas in Collioure’s church for instance, the subjects of his carvings have more to do with the sea...