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Le Puy

LE PUY, or LE PUY EN VELAY, a town of south-eastern France, capital of the department of Haute-Loire, 90 m. S.W. of Lyons on the Paris-Lyon railway. Pop. (1906) town, 17,291; commune, 21,420. Le Puy rises in the form of an amphitheatre from a height of 2050 ft. above sea-level upon Mont Anis, a hill that divides the left bank of the Dolezon from the right bank of the Borne (a rapid stream joining the Loire 3 m. below). From the new town, which lies east and west in the valley of the Dolezon, the traveller ascends the old feudal and ecclesiastical town through narrow steep streets, paved with pebbles of lava, to the cathedral commanded by the fantastic pinnacle of Mont Corneille. Mont Corneille, which is 433 ft. above the Place de Breuil (in the lower town), is a steep rock of volcanic breccia, surmounted by an iron statue of the Virgin (53 ft. high) cast, after a model by Bonassieux, out of guns taken at Sebastopol. Another statue, that of Msgr de Morlhon, bishop of Le Puy, also sculptured by Bonassieux, faces that of the Virgin. From the platform of Mont Corneille a magnificent panoramic view is obtained of the town and of the volcanic mountains, which make this region one of the most interesting parts of France.

The Romanesque cathedral (Notre-Dame), dating chiefly from the first half of the 12th century, has a particoloured facade of white sandstone and black volcanic breccia, which is reached by a flight of sixty steps, and consists of three tiers, the lowest composed of three high arcades opening into the porch, which extends beneath the first bays of the nave; above are three windows lighting the nave; and these in turn are surmounted by three gables, two of which, those to the right and the left, are of open work. The staircase continues within the porch, where it divides, leading on the left to the cloister, on the right into the church. The doorway of the south transept is sheltered by a fine Romanesque porch. The isolated bell-tower (184 ft.), which rises behind the choir in seven storeys, is one of the most beautiful examples of the Romanesque transition period. The bays of the nave are covered in by octagonal cupolas, the central cupola forming a lantern. The choir and transepts are barrel-vaulted. Much veneration is paid to a small image of the Virgin on the high altar, a modern copy of the medieval image destroyed at the Revolution. The cloister, to the north of the choir, is striking, owing to its variouslycoloured materials and elegant shafts. Viollet-Ie-Duc considered one of its galleries to belong to the oldest known type of cathedral cloister (8th or 9th century). Connected with the cloister are remains of fortifications of the 13th century, by which it was separated from the rest of the city. Near the cathedral the baptistery of St John (nth century), built on the foundations of a Roman building, is surrounded by walls and numerous remains of the period, partly uncovered by excavations. The church of St Lawrence (14th century) contains the tomb and statue of Bertrand du Guesclin, whose ashes were afterwards carried to St Denis.

Le Puy possesses fragmentary remains of its old line of fortifications, among them a machicolated tower, which has been restored, and a few curious old houses dating from the 12th to the 17th century. In front of the hospital there is a fine medieval porch under which a street passes. Of the modern monuments the statue of Marie Joseph Paul, marquis of La Fayette, and a fountain in the Place de Breuil, executed in marble, bronze and syenite, may be specially mentioned. The museum, named after Charles Crozatier, a native sculptor and metal-worker to whose munificence it principally owes its existence, contains antiquities, engravings a collection of lace, and ethnographical and natural history collections. Among the curiosities of Le Puy should be noted the church of St Michel d'Aiguilhe, beside the gate of the town, perched on an isolated rock like Mont Corneille, the top of which is reached by a staircase of 271 steps. The church dates from the end of the 10th century and its chancel is still older. The steeple is of the same type as that of the cathedral. Three miles from Le Puy are the ruins of the Chateau de Polignac, one of the most important feudal strongholds of France.

Le Puy is the seat of a bishopric, a prefect and a court of assizes, and has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a board of trade arbitration, a chamber of commerce, and a branch of the Bank of France. Its educational institutions include ecclesiastical seminaries, lycees and training colleges for both sexes and municipal industrial schools of drawing, architecture and mathematics applied to arts and industries. The principal manufacture is that of lace and guipure (in woollen, linen, cotton, silk and gold and silver threads), and distilling, leather-dressing, malting and the manufacture of chocolate and cloth are carried on. Cattle, woollens, grain and vegetables are the chief articles of trade.

It is not known whether Le Puy existed previously to the Roman invasion. Towards the end of the 4th or beginning of the 5th century it became the capital of the country of the Vellavi, at which period the bishopric, originally at Revession, now St Paulien, was transferred hither. Gregory of Tours speaks of it by the name of Anicium, because a chapel " ad Deum " had been built on the mountain, whence the name of Mont Adidon or Anis, which it still retains. In the loth century it was called Podium Sanctae Mariae, whence Le Puy. In the middle ages there was a double enclosure, one for the cloister, the other for the town. The sanctuary of Notre Dame was much frequented by pilgrims, and the city grew famous and populous. Rivalries between the bishops who held directly of the see of Rome and had the right of coining money, and the lords of Polignac, revolts of the town against the royal authority, and the encroachments of the feudal superiors on municipal prerogatives often disturbed the quiet of the town. The Saracens in the 8th century, the Routiers in the 12th, the English in the Hth, the Burgundians in the 15th, successively ravaged the neighbourhood. Le Puy sent the flower of its chivalry to the Crusades in 1096, and Raymond d'Aiguille, called d'Agiles, one of its sons, was their historian. Many councils and various assemblies of the states of Languedoc met within its walls; popes and sovereigns, among the latter Charlemagne and Francis I., visited its sanctuary. Pestilence and the religious wars put an end to its prosperity. Long occupied by the Leaguers, it did not submit to Henry IV. until many years after his accession.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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