The Cantal is one of the emptiest parts of France. When you hear what sounds like cow bells, it is not ringing in your ears or even a Mahler symphony; it most probably is the bells of the Cantal cows.

One of the few towns in this rural idyll, Mauriac stands on the zero meridian, and its church of Notre Dame des Miracles is a fine largely Romanesque building (1), made into a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XV in 1921, with a notable Romanesque sculpted west portal of the Ascension of Christ. (2)

Inside you first see a splendid generously proportioned Romanesque font, its coloured and sculpted bowl decorated with figures including Christ in Majesty, the Agnus Dei, S Michael and the Dragon and the Evangelistic symbols (3) whilst above the high altar is the mediaeval statue of ND des Miracles (said to have stopped droughts and a cholera outbreak). (4)

Mauriac was the birthplace of Cardinal Jules-Géraud Saliège, Archbishop of Toulouse, who courageously stood up to the Nazis in his great pastoral letter of August 1942, famously denouncing the deportation of Jews. On the outside wall of the N transept, a crucifix commemorates the Abbé Filiol, executed on 14 May 1793, perhaps Saliège’s inspiration. (5)