SS JUST ET PASTEUR, VALCABRÈRE, FRANCE
The church occupies a stunning location, its churchyard planted with cypresses, set against a backdrop of the Pyrenees and the cathedral of S. Bertrand de Comminges (ND June 2012).
The site was a paléochristian cemetery, a kilometre up the road from the Roman Lugdanum, traditionally the place of exile of Herod, Herodias and Salome; the walls of the church and cemetery contain many fragments of paléochristian and Merovingian sarcophagi. One such piece in the west wall, found in the churchyard in the 19th c, has a funerary inscription to Valeria Severa and a priest by the name of Patroclus, is dateable to 347 AD – shortly after the martyrdom of the church’s two patron saints, young Spanish Christians martyred in the great persecution of AD 304.
It is a splendid piece of Romanesque architecture, begun in the late 11th c., completed and consecrated in October 1200; in 1885 a parchment detailing the ‘act of consecration’ was discovered in the High Altar’s masonry. Raymond Arnaud de Labarthe, bishop of Comminges 1189-1204, consecrated it to the protomartyr S. Stephen and to Saints Just and Pasteur. It has a four-bay nave with N and S aisles terminating a chevet with a central apse flanked by two apsidoles. The most striking feature you notice as you walk up is the N portal, topped by tympanum with Christ in Majesty surrounded by 2 censing angels and the Four Evangelists. Each side of the doorway are two pairs of saints, elegant, streamlined figures like something you would see in Northern France (think of the W. doorway of Chartres Cathedral). Two are Just and Pasteur, the others are S. Stephen and S. Helen, holding a cross (representing the True Cross). Step through the door and you are in a simple and unadorned interior. There’s a fine Romanesque Virgin and Child in the N chapel, but you probably concentrate upon the altar, and the sarcophagus of the patron saints behind it, topped by a ciborium bearing 14th c. statues of Just and Pasteur.
To read: M. Durliat and V. Allégre, Pyrénées Romanes, Zodiaque, 2nd edition 1978.