Church Sainte-Croix in Oloron-Sainte-Marie visitor guide

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The church of Sainte-Croix is a church in the medieval quarter of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, a town in the Béarn district of south-west France. This medieval town on a hill was originally called Sainte-Croix, and this church was the main church in the town until the cathedral of Sainte-Marie was built 300 years later.

The church was paid for with proceeds from an 11th century crusade, which explains the name of the church - although usually churches called "Saint Cross" contained what was believed to be a fragment of the true cross, which is not the case here in Oloron-Sainte-Marie.

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France This Way review: this ancient church has several interesting characteristics and is well worth a visit when you explore Oloron-Sainte-Marie

To reach the church of Sainte-Croix from the centre of Oloron-Sainte-Marie, the most attractive route follows the Rue Louis Barthou south from the main bridge over the Gave d'Aspe, then you can climb the stairs called the escalieres de bellevue (rather long and steep) and then follow the promenade de Bellevue...this promenade is an attractive walk with nice views across the valley of the Aspe.

Facade and tower of the church of Sainte-Croix

The church was built in the 11th century on the site of an earlier church and retains many features from this time, incuding the roman style tower that dominates the facade of the church. Unfortunately most of the roman style doorway that originally surrounded the entrance is no longer in existence.

The main entrance is on the north side of the church, and the interior follows a simple layout with a single nave and two side aisles, a transept, and an apse with a domed ceiling, around an 18th century altar.

One of the most unusual characteristics is the dome above the transept which has ribs forming a star and a large shell representing pilgrims in each corner. This is an unusual design occasionally seen in churches insipred by Arab speaking christians at that time.


The painted capital stones on the pillars in the choir area of the church are one of the most remarkable sights in the church, and represent, for example, Saint-Jean the Baptist, the dance of Salomé, and musicians and dancers. The painting has been redone, adding vitality to the statues and reminding visitors of how churches really looked in the medieval period.

The whole altar area is impressive, with the wall and the domed ceiling painted with religious characters, in a style we usually associate more with Italy than France, although this is a 19th century addition in this church. Stories represented in the paintings include the Resurrection, the Passion of Christ and the Last Judgement.

Purists of architecture may not appreciate these paintings, which were part of a rather ill-informed renovation of the church in the 19th century, which included adding the roman-byzantine style to the building.

After admiring the area around the altar look down at your feet: a large part of the floor in the church is made from gravestones from the 17th and 18th century.

For a small contribution to the church you can turn the lights on in the church Sainte-Croix, otherwise it is rather dark and hard to see certain features.

painting in the dome of the church of Sainte-Croix

Attractions nearby

A short distance below the church of Sainte-Croix the medieval Tour de Gréde is another important fortfied building from the medieval period, and across the road from the tower you can see the most important colombage house in the town.

Elsewhere in the town you can visit another important religious monument, the cathedral of Sainte-Marie. See the Oloron-Sant-Marie guide for more information about the town as well as the Béarn guide for interesting attractions in the mountain valleys to the south of the town.

See more churches in France. You can find more travel ideas in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques guide and the Aquitaine guide.

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Photos of Church Sainte-Croix in Oloron-Sainte-Marie

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  • altar
  • columns
  • dome (1)
  • dome (2)
  • dome (4)
  • facade
  • garden-statue
  • nave
  • pilgrim-shells
  • statues
  • tombstones

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The French version of this page is at Church Sainte-Croix in Oloron-Sainte-Marie (Francais)