The Cloisters, Moissac Abbey. December 1877. Photographer: Séraphin-Médéric Mieusement (1840-1905). Licence Ouverte. Wikimedia Commons.

3 Jul 2022

Sens Cathedral, France.



English: Sens Cathedral, France.
Deutsch: Kathedrale Saint-Ètienne, Sens.
Français : Cathédrale Saint-Ètienne, Sens.
Photo: 3 January 2018.
Source: Own work.
(Wikimedia Commons)



English: The Choir Screen,
Sens Cathedral, France.
Français: Grilles du chœur de la cathédrale de Sens,
Yonne, Bourgogne, France.
Photo: 17 September 2012.
Source: Own work.
Author: Pline
(Wikimedia Commons)

Text from Wikipedia - the free encyclopædia,
unless stated otherwise.

Sens Cathedral (French: Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens) is a Catholic Cathedral in Sens, in Burgundy, Eastern France. The Cathedral, Dedicated to Saint Stephen, is the Seat of The Archbishop of Sens.

Sens Cathedral was the first Cathedral to be built in the The Gothic Architectural Style (The Basilica of Saint Denis, the other pioneer Gothic building, built at about the same time, was an Abbey, not a Cathedral).[1]

The Choir was begun between 1135 and 1140, shortly before Notre Dame de Paris. The Sanctuary was Consecrated in 1164, but work continued until 1176.[2] It is a National Monument of France. The structure was completed in the Late-15th-Century and the Early-16th-Century with Flamboyant Style Transepts and a new Tower. The Architecture of its Choir influenced that of Canterbury Cathedral, which was rebuilt in The Gothic Style by The Master Mason William of Sens.


Sens Cathedral,
France.
Available on YouTube at



Sens was an important and prosperous Town during the Late-Roman Empire, located at the meeting point of two Rivers and at the intersection of two major Roman roads. During The Carolingian Empire, it became a major centre of the Early-French Christian Church.

In 876 A.D., Pope John VIII gave The Archbishop of Sens the Title "Primate of The Gauls and Germans". He was placed at the Head of six and, later, seven Dioceses, including Paris, Chartres, Orleans, and Troyes.[3][4][5] The Religious jurisdiction was transferred to The Archbishop of Lyon in the 11th-Century, but The Archbishop of Sens still keeps the Honorific Title "Primate of The Gauls and Germans".[5]

The first Cathedral of Sens, described in Mediæval Records, was built sometime between the 6th-Century A.D. and the 9th-Century A.D., probably on the same site. According to Mediæval Records, it was composed of three separate buildings, a Baptistry and two Churches. The date of their construction is not recorded, but Mediæval Chronicles report they were destroyed by fire between 958 A.D. and 967 A.D., and replaced by a single structure.[5]


Contest Of The Cathedrals.
The Gothic Period.
Available on YouTube at



By the 12th-Century, Sens was flourishing economically and growing in population. In 1122, Henri Sanglier, a Member of The Court of King Louis VI of France, was named Archbishop of Sens, and began the project of building a larger and grander Cathedral. In 1128, the new Bishop received a series of Letters from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Founder of The Cistercian Order, urging him as an Archbishop to live a less luxurious and more austere life, advice which the new Archbishop followed, as he amassed the funds and resources needed for his Cathedral.[6]

Construction of the new Cathedral began between 1130 and 1135.[7] The Vaulting over The Nave and Choir was revolutionary, composed of square Six-Part Rib Vaults, which distributed the weight downward to alternating Columns and Piers between The Bays. These Vaults had been used experimentally in one portion of Durham Cathedral, in England, and at Saint Denis Basilica, near Paris, but Sens was the first Cathedral to use them throughout the structure.[6]

Above the Arcades of Pillars and Columns on the Ground Floor, was The Triforium, which overlooked the Lower Roof, and, above that, The Clerestory, or, Upper Walls. Thanks to the new Flying Buttresses installed outside, between The Bays, to the walls, The Clerestory was later given large Stained-Glass Windows.[8]


Sens Cathedral,
France.
Available on YouTube at



The Ground Floor of the new Cathedral had the Traditional form of a Basilica, with a long Nave and a large Choir, and no Transepts. A Walk-Way or Ambulatory, surrounded the outside of The Nave and Choir. There were two Chapels flanking The Choir. Excavations in the 20th-Century showed there had originally been a rectangular Chapel in The Apse, at The East End, hidden by later modifications.[9]

The dimensions of the new Cathedral were extraordinary for the time: 113.5 meters long, 27.5 meters wide, and with a height of 24.4 meters.[10] The Church is larger in overall scale than its contemporaries, the Cathedrals at Saint Denis, Noyon or Senlis.[11]

The first phase of construction was completed by about 1160. It had an immediate influence on the construction of other Churches, particularly The Choir of The Abbey Church of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, in Paris, completed in 1163, and Vezelay Abbey (completed about 1180.[10]


Pope Alexander III and Thomas Becket.


Sens Cathedral immediately became a destination for important visitors. Pope Alexander III came to Sens with his Court in September 1163, in the midst of a dispute with The Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, and remained for three years. At the end of 1164, Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, came to Sens as an Exile, forced to leave because of his opposition to the seizure of Church property by King Henry II of England.

Becket remained in France until December 1170. He returned to England, where he was murdered by four Knights in Canterbury Cathedral. A collection of personal effects belonging to Becket, including his Church Vestments, are on display in The Treasury of Sens Cathedral. A major window on The North Side of The Choir of the Cathedral, made in 1200 - 1210, illustrates the life of Becket.[12]

The Founder of the Cathedral, Henri Sanglier, died in 1142, and the work was carried on by his successors, Archbishops Hugues de Toucy (1142 – 1168) and Guillaume de Champagne (1169 – 1176), before he became Archbishop of Reims (1176 – 1202). The last part of the original Cathedral to be completed was The West façade, with its three Portals and original two Towers.


Under a new Archbishop, Gauthier Cornut (1221 - 1241), the Cathedral was the site of an important Royal Wedding, between King Louis IX and Marguerite of Provence, on 27 May 1234, which solidified the alliance between France and Provence. The Cathedral also briefly hosted the reputed Crown of Thorns from The Crucifixion, purchased by Louis IX from The Emperor of Constantinople, as it was handed over to the King with great ceremony, and then transported by boat to Paris for eventual placement in The Sainte-Chapelle.

Archbishop Cornut made a series of important modifications. To bring in more light, he raised the Upper Walls of The Choir and installed larger Stained-Glass Windows, a process that also took place at Notre Dame de Paris at about the same time. This project was continued by Cornut's successors, and was not finished until 1309. He also began the construction of The Archbishop’s Palace, adjoining the Cathedral, the remodelling of The Saint Severin Chapel, and the installation of an ornate Jube, or Rood Screen, between The Choir and The Nave.[13]

The works were interrupted by a disaster, the collapse on 5 April 1268 of The South Tower, which caused several casualties and damaged the adjoining Archbishop's Palace. The rebuilding of the Tower was long delayed for lack of funds, but was finally completed by a legacy in the Will of Archbishop Étienne Bécard de Penoul (1292 – 1309).[13]


English: Sens Cathedral, France.
Français: Cathédrale Saint-Étienne,
Sens, Côte d'Or, Bourgogne, France.
Photo: 17 June 2016.
Source: Own work.
(Wikimedia Commons)


The same Archbishop also remade the Chapel of Saint Savinien. The original rectangular Chapel was replaced by a more ornate polygonal structure with an Eight-Ribbed Vault and five Windows. This Chapel introduced The High Gothic, or "Classic" Style into the Cathedral. The 14th-Century also saw the addition of a series of new small Chapels, for private ceremonies, along the Aisles on either side of The Choir and The Nave.[13]

The other major 13th-Century modification was the reconstruction of the Early-Gothic Chapel of The Virgin, built in 1150, into The Rayonnant Style, with larger and more decorative windows. An even more ambitious project, a Transept, similar to that of Notre Dame de Paris, was started, but, evidently because of a shortage of funds, was not built until between 1490 and 1518. It was finally made in the exuberant Late-Gothic Flamboyant Style by The Master Mason Martin Chambiges, whose other works included Senlis CathedralBeauvais Cathedral (1499), and The West Front of Troyes Cathedral (1502 – 1531).[14][15]

The money for The Transept was raised by an ambitious fund-raising campaign, featuring displays of the Cathedral Relics and special Sermons. The King also made a modest contribution from the taxes on his properties in the Region.[13] The Portal of the new South Transept, the Portal of Moses, was built first, between 1491 and 1496, A new Rose Window was installed, along with a Tree of Jesse Window, between 1502 and 1503.


The Choir Screen, Sens Cathedral.
Photo: 7 June 2010.
Author: rene boulay
(Wikimedia Commons)


Construction of The North Transept was begun in about 1502 under a different Master Builder, Hugues Cuvelier, since Martin Chambiges was by then occupied in building The Transept of Beauvais Cathedral. The Great South Rose Window, known as The Window of The Angel Musicians, was not put into place until 1515 – 1517. A few more additions were made in the 16th-Century. A Belfry was added to the new Tower (called The Lead Tower), but the new Bells, the largest two of which weighed fourteen tons and twelve tons, were not cast in the foundry and put into place until 1560.[16]

The work on the Cathedral was delayed in the Late-16th-Century by The Wars of Religion, opposing Protestants and Catholics. Sens was in the centre of the War, not recognising the Protestant King Henry IV, and the City was besieged without success by a Protestant army. In 1621, the new Archbishop of Paris, Henri de Gondi, persuaded the new King Louis XIII, and Pope Gregory XV to make the Archdiocese of Paris, rather than that of Sens, the principal Diocese of France. Thereafter the new Archbishop of Sens, Octave de Belgrade, only had authority over the Bishops of neighbouring Auxerre, Nevers and Troyes. Nonetheless, Sens remained an important Religious Centre, attracting Monastic Communities of The Jesuits, Carmelites, Benedictines, and Ursulines.[16]

Few important additions to the Cathedral were made in the following decades. In 1638, the explosions of Cannons, firing to celebrate the birth of the future King Louis XIV broke the Stained-Glass Windows installed over The West Portal. They were replaced by plain glass. In 1644, a wind storm broke the Stained-Glass Window depicting the Patron Saints on The North Transept. It was replaced with a new window designed by The Painter, Antoine Soulignac in 1646.


The South Transept Rose Window and Portal.
Flamboyant Gothic Style (15th-Century).
Photo: 1 June 2010.
Source: Own work.
Author: rabbitslim
(Wikimedia Commons)


The pace of change picked up in the 18th-Century. In 1760, King Louis XV ordered that The Golden Table, which served as the Centre-Piece of the Altar, be melted down to help refill the Royal Treasury after a costly War. In the 1760s, two new Altars, one devoted to Saint Louis and one devoted to Saint Martin, were put in place, along with an ornate Wrought Iron Grill and Gateway, with the Coat-of-Arms of Cardinal de Luynes.

New Stalls were installed in The Choir in the 1780s. The Stone Floor of the Cathedral was replaced in 1767 – 1769, which destroyed the Labyrinth, which had occupied the entire space of the floor at the entry of The Nave.

In 1785, a project was prepared for a new West Portal of the Church, in the form of a Classical Portico with Columns, designed by François Soufflot, nephew of the future architect of The Pantheon in Paris, but it was rejected as too radical. A fund for a "Reconstruction in The Gothic Style" was granted by King Louis XVI in 1786, but The French Revolution intervened.[13]


Sens Cathedral, France.
The Tympanum of The Life of Saint Stephen. The heads of
most figures were knocked off during The French Revolution.
Photo: 13 April 2019.
Source: Own work.
Author: Chabe01
(Wikimedia Commons)


The outbreak of The French Revolution, in Sens, preceded that in Paris by a day: on 13 July 1789, peasants broke down The Gates of The Palace of The Archbishop to seize the grain that had been confiscated and stored in the courtyard. The Archbishop, Lomenie de Brienne, took an oath to the new Constitution. The belongings of the Cathedral were nationalised on 23 November 1790. In September 1792, the voting for the Deputies to the new Convention took place within the Cathedral. Archbishop de Brienne became a Constitutional Bishop, and, later in the month, the abolition of The Monarchy and declaration of The Republic was announced in the Cathedral.[17]

In November 1793, the Revolutionary Army, called the Marseillaises, marched from Paris to put down a Counter-Revolutionary outbreak in Lyon. They stopped in Sens for a few hours on 7 November 1793, and took the time to smash the sculpture on the Central Portal of the Cathedral, sparing only the statue of Saint-Etienne, because a quick-thinking Clergyman had put a Revolutionary Cap on its head.[17]

Eight of the Bells were taken down from the Tower to be melted down for their Bronze, though the two largest, the Bourdons, remained in place. In February 1794, The Festival of Reason was celebrated in the Cathedral, and, on 8 June 1794, the Cathedral was formally re-named “The Temple of The Supreme Being”.[18]


Sens Cathedral, France.
The South facade, Portal of Moses, and
Flamboyant Rose Window (15th–16th-Century).
Photo: 22 September 2020.
Source: Own work.
Author: Engilhramm
(Wikimedia Commons)


With the end of “The Terror”, for a time The Catholic Church shared the structure with a semi-religious cult called “Theophilanthropy”. In October 1801, the Cathedral came back entirely under the control of The Catholic Church, though Emperor Napoleon I refused to restore the special status of Sens having dominance over other Cathedrals. Sens Cathedral became an ordinary Parish Church.[18]

Sens Cathedral suffered more damage during The Napoleonic Wars. In February 1814, the Town was bombarded by Russian Artillery, which damaged some of the Stained-Glass, and, in the same month, Prussian Soldiers used the Cathedral as a Barracks. Traces of their cooking fires can still be seen on the Stone Floors.[18] After the fall of Napoleon, with the restoration of the Royal Government, in 1817 Sens again had an Archbishop, governing Churches in Troyes, Nevers and Moulins, as well as Sens.

A major project of repair of years of neglect and damage took place from 1834 to 1848, under the direction of the Diocese Architect, Charles Robelin; he served as the consultant on Gothic Cathedrals to Victor Hugo, whose novel “Notre Dame de Paris” had appeared in 1831. Hugo came to Sens to see the Cathedral in 1839 and wrote: "All the contrasts are mixed in this admirable Church, and are resolved into harmonies . . . it is the complicated art of history, it is the Religion of the Spirit, powerfully combined with the philosophy of facts." During the course of the restoration, many of the sculptures were replaced with new works.[19]


In 1847, a new figure in restoration, Eugène Viollet-le-Duc visited the site, and declared that the restoration work of Robelin was "deplorable." He dismissed Robelin, and a new Architect, Adolphe Lance, took charge, with a programme of demolishing some of the 14th-Century, and later, additions and restoring the structure as much as possible to the Plan of the 13th-Century.

Old Chapels that had been demolished were recreated. Modern Panelling and other additions were stripped away, and the weak points of the structure were reinforced with Iron. The Painter, Jean-Baptiste Corot, visited the Cathedral in 1874 and painted it at this stage of the restoration. Viollet-le-Duc added a gilded Bronze Arm-Chair, modelled on 12th-Century designs, which was placed in the centre of the Cathedral, to be the formal Seat of the Archbishop. The Architect, Adolphe Lance, died in 1874 and his work was completed in 1898 by Charles Laisne.[20]

At the beginning of the 20th-Century, the French Church and State were formally separated; Priests were no longer paid by the State, and the Cathedral became the property of the French Government. In 1907, the Archbishop had to abandon his Palace, which had become State Property, and find a different residence. His old residence is now The Museum of Sens.


The 16th-Century North Transept Rose Window.
Français: Rosace du transept Nord de la cathédrale de Sens.
Photo: 28 May 2019.
Source: Own work.
Author: Thomon
(Wikimedia Commons)


In The First World War, the Cathedral was far from The Front Line, but, in The Second World War, the German Army swept through Sens, which was captured on 15 June 1940. The Stained-Glass Windows had been taken out and replaced by boards. Five German Shells struck the Cathedral, causing minor damage. French Prisoners-of-War were initially kept inside the Cathedral; they included André Malraux, the future French author and Minister of Culture. In 2014, the Cathedral celebrated the 850th Anniversary of its Consecration.[21]

The South Tower, known as “The Stone Tower”, was finished, along with The West Façade, in 1230. However, in 1268, over a period of three days, it collapsed. It was rebuilt, and, in 1537, was capped with a Campanile in The Renaissance Style, which brought its height to 78.25m (256 ft). The North Tower was originally topped by an octagonal Bell Tower, made of Wood, covered with Lead. This structure, called “The Lead Tower”, was taken down during the reconstruction of the Cathedral in 1848.[22]

The Cathedral has seven Bells, four in The South Bell Tower, including the two massive Bourdons, and three in The Campanile, above it. The oldest of the original Bells was called Marie, made in 613 A.D. for the Bishop, Saint Loup. During The French Revolution, Marie and the seven other original Bells were taken to Paris to be melted down to be made into Cannons.[23]


The Bourdons are among the largest in France. They were forged in 1560. The largest, called The Savinienne, weighs 15,600 kilograms, while the smaller, The Potentienne, weighs 10,000 kilograms. The inscription in Latin on Savinienne translates: "I was forged in Sens, in the year one thousand five hundred sixty. By my sound, and the name of the first Saint-Bishop, the storms and winds do not disturb this climate. I convoke the services, and lament the deaths. Now Pious IV reigns in Rome, the Emperor Ferdinand governs The Germans, King Francis II The Gauls, and Jean, Cardinal Bertrand, The Archdiocese of Sens." Then, in French, "Gaspard Mongin-Viard made me."



English: The Portal of Moses
and the Flamboyant Rose Window
(15th-Century to 16th-Century.)
Français: Cathédrale Saint-Etienne de Sens, 12e-16e siècles.
Transept de Martin Chambiges XV-XVIe siècles,
à droite chapelle de la Vierge XIII-XIVe siècles.
Photo: 22 September 2020.
Source: Own work.
Author: Engilhramm
(Wikimedia Commons)

The West Façade has three Portals, or, doorways, which contain some of the oldest sculpture in the Cathedral. Some of the sculpture was smashed during The French Revolution, and some original pieces, notably the Column-Statues and two bas-reliefs, have been moved to the Museum within The Archbishop's Palace, and replaced with copies.

The North Portal, Dedicated to John the Baptist, is the oldest, made between 1190-1200, prior to the Portals of Notre Dame de Paris and Chartres Cathedral. It is the best preserved, and is an exceptionally good example of the Early-Gothic Style. Its arched Tympanum over the doorway is crowded with sculpted figures and events of the Saint's life. The central scene, just over the door, depicts Christ, in the water, being Baptised by the Saint. Another scene depicts Salome, the nemesis of the Saint, carrying his head on a plate. Traces of paint were found on the sculpture, including Red pigment on the neck of John the Baptist and Gold on the cup of Salomé, indicating that, as with other Gothic Cathedrals, the entire Tympanum was brightly coloured. [24]

The Central Portal is aligned with the Altar, and is Dedicated to Saint Stephen, the Patron Saint of the Cathedral, with events of his life. His statue occupies the Column between the two doors, and was the only one of the Statue-Columns that survived the Revolutionary battering. (The statue is a copy – the original is now inside the Museum). Besides statuary representing the Parable of the Ten Virgins and the story of Saint Stephen, it presents sculptures of animals, including ostriches, elephants and dolphins, as well as mythical beasts including basilisks and griffons.


It also illustrates the typical activities of each of the twelve months, including harvesting crops and making wine. Many of these works were badly damaged during the Revolutionary vandalism. The sculpture on soubassements, or, lower portions of the Portal, contain sculptural figures illustrating the arts and sciences of The Middle Ages, including Grammar, Dialectics, Rhetoric, Music, Mathematics, Astronomy and Philosophy.[24]


English: The Tympanum over The Great West Door,
Saint Stephen's Cathedral, Sens, France.
It depicts the life of Saint Stephen. The heads of most figures
were destroyed during The French Revolution.
Français: Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens.
Photo:: 13 April 2019.
Source: Own work.
Author: Chabe01
(Wikimedia Commons)


The South Portal on The West Façade is Dedicated to The Virgin Mary, and the Tympanum illustrates her life. It is the most recent, probably from the end of the 13th-Century. It replaced the original Portal, which was destroyed in 1268 by the fall of The South Tower.[25]

The Transept of the Cathedral was constructed at the end of the 15th-Century and the beginning of the 16th-Century, in The Flamboyant Style. It was the work of Architect Martin Chambiges, who also designed The Transepts of Senlis Cathedral, Beauvais Cathedral (1499), and The West Front of Troyes Cathedral (1502–1531). The Portal of The South Transept was reserved for the Archbishop, whose residence faced it across the Courtyard. The North Portal was reserved for the Clergy of The Chapter.

The Flamboyant Style is most vividly expressed in the curving Pointed Archway over the Portal of Moses, topped by a statue of Moses with The Tablets of The Ten Commandments. Above, is a group of narrow Lancet Windows, below The South Rose Window, which is filled with The Flamboyant twists and counter-twists of Stone Tracery. This Façade is flanked by two Pinnacle-like Towers, which contain stairways and are topped with elaborate Spires. The stairways are marked with the Fleur-de-Lis emblem of King Louis X of France and the Ermine, symbol of his wife, Anne de Bretagne. There are many niches for sculpture above the doorway, but the statues were destroyed in The French Revolution. [26]


The North Transept Portal, called The Portal of Abraham, also designed by Martin Chambiges, has an even more elaborate Flamboyant Rose Window and Façade; it was built between 1503 and 1507. The statuary here was also destroyed in The French Revolution.[27]


Sens Cathedral has an important collection of Stained-Glass Windows covering the periods from The Early Gothic to The Renaissance. The oldest Stained-Glass, from the Early-13th-Century, is found in the upper windows of The Choir and in The Apse. The best-known is the Thomas Becket Window, celebrating his Life and Martyrdom.[22]

The other windows present the Parables of The Good Samaritan, and The Prodigal Son. These windows date from 1200-1205, and are located in The North Collateral of The Choir. They are composed of Circular and Triangular Medallions of Stained-Glass, illustrating episodes in the lives of their subjects.

The Rose Windows in The Transept are from the 16th-Century and are good examples of the Late-Flamboyant Gothic Style. The realism and use of three dimensions in the windows shows the growing influence of The Renaissance.[22]


English: The Flamboyant-Style North Transept Rose Window
(1503–1507).
Français: Façade transept nord.
Photo: 7 September 2011.
Source: Own work.
(Wikimedia Commons)


The Virgin and Child sculpture is known particularly for The Virgin's serene expression and the fine detail of the drapery. It was given to the Church by Canon Manuel de Jaulnes in 1334. Like most statues of The Virgin, it was spared destruction during The French Revolution, though the decoration of the Crown was broken off, and later restored.[28]

The Chapel of The Salazars was created by Archbishop Tristan de Salazar (1474-1519) to honour his parents. It contains a Baldaquin facing an Altar of Black Marble, on four Pillars, with a Retable above it. The Altar was made in 1514 by Guillaume Chavelveau. The sculpture on the Retable illustrates the Religious history of Sens and of The Salazars.

It includes sculpted images of John the Baptist, Saint Stephen, a Virgin and Child, and eight statues of Prophets and Sibyles. The intricate decoration and lace-like Spires are in the Flamboyant Gothic Style. The work was Consecrated in 1516 by the donor.[28]


The Martyrdom of Saint Severin was made in the 18th-Century by the sculptor Joseph Hermand, the Royal Sculptor for The King of Poland and Duke of Lorraine, Stanislas Leczinski. The dramatic scene of the Martyrdom is set against a Screen of Pale Yellow stucco, resembling drapery.[28]



English: The 16th-Century North Rose Window,
Sens Cathedral, France.
Français: Rosace du transept Nord de la cathédrale de Sens.
Photo: 28 May 2019.
Source: Own work.
Author: Thomon
(Wikimedia Commons)

The tomb of Louis, Dauphin of France (son of King Louis XV), and his Consort, Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, who died of tuberculosis in 1765, is located in the Cathedral. Though he was never King of France, he was the father of three French Kings: Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X. The sculpture is by Guillaume Coustou the Younger.[29]

Other prominent works of sculpture and bas-relief represent scenes from the life of Cardinal Antoine Duprat, Chancellor of France and Archbishop of Sens from 1525 to 1535. The Mausoleum, from which they came, was destroyed in The French Revolution.

In 1740, Archbishop Jean-Joseph Languet de Gergy decided that the Cathedral needed a grander Altar and a Baldaquin, a high Canopy over the Altar, to participate in the Artistic Counter-Reformation campaign against the more austere Protestants. The function of the Baldaquin was to attract the eyes to the Altar. The new work was designed by the Chevalier, Jean Nicolas Servandoni, Architect of the King, and two Sculptors, the Slodtz Brothers.


The main elements of the Baldaquin are the four Marble columns, each five metres high, which came from Rance. They originally were made to surround the statue of King Louis XIV in the Place des Victoires, but were removed in 1718. The old Altar was demolished, beginning in 1742, and the remains of the earlier Bishops and Clergy, which were buried beneath the floor, were relocated. The Columns were placed upon Pedestals to make them even higher, and crowned with Gilded Bronze Corinthian Capitals, which support the Gilded Canopy. The centre-piece of the Canopy is a Gilded Sunburst design with a Tetragramme, the four Letters of The Name of God in Hebrew, YHWH. The Gilded Crown at the top was inspired by that made by Bernini for the Altar of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.[30]


The Retable of The Salazars (1514).
Sens Cathedral, France.
Photo: 8 July 2016.
Source: Own work.
Author: PMRMaeyaert
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Marble of the original Altar, Consecrated in 1332, was incorporated into the new Altar. The Altar originally had a celebrated Golden Table, which was removed and melted down to raise money during the Reign of King Louis XV. At the summit of the Baldaquin, is a Bronze statue of an Angel, two metres (six feet) high, holding a Crucifix in one hand and a Chain in the other, attached to a Silver Pavilion holding a Chalice, or Cup, a symbol of the Ceremony of The Eucharist.[30]

The Nave, intended for the public, and The Choir, intended for the Clergy, were originally separated by a Stone Screen. with a single doorway. The Choir was surrounded by an Iron Grill. The Screen and Old Grill deteriorated, and, in 1726, The Chapter decided to replace it with a new, more ornate, Screen, with the Coat-of-Arms of The Chapter and a Crucifix. The work did not begin until 1760, with a new design and an abundance of Gilding. The gateway to The Choir was particularly ornamented with twisting sculpture resembling Grapevines, the symbol of The Eucharist. On top of the Gate is the Coat-of-Arms of Cardinal de Luynes, composed of Chains of Gold and Lions. The earlier, simpler, Grill, made in 1726, was moved to the Chapel of Saint Savinien, where it remains today.[31]


The Pipe Organ at Sens Cathedral was used in Mediæval times and only played during interludes; the chanting by the Clergy was unaccompanied. [32] The earliest mention of an Organ in the Cathedral was in 1440. Records show a new Organ, with twelve Pedals, installed 1560, and was enlarged in 1609. A new, larger, instrument, more in keeping with changes in Church Music, was ordered in 1722, and installed for Easter 1734, near the entrance of The Nave. The new instrument could play thirty-six notes on its three Keyboards, and an additional twenty-nine notes with Foot Pedals, enlarged to thirty-four notes in 1774.[32]

Following The French Revolution, when the Cathedral was Secularised, the Organ was used only rarely, for Festivals Celebrating “The Supreme Being”. In 1802, the Cathedral was returned to The Catholic Church. The Organ was fragile and sensitive to humidity, and in need of restoration. The composer Charles Gounod came to the Cathedral in 1886 and asked to see the Organ, which was then hardly playable. He launched a campaign for its restoration, which was finally done in 1890. It underwent another restoration in 1978. Today, it has 878 Pipes from the 18th-Century, and an additional twenty-four Pipes from the 19th-Century, for a total of 2,906 Pipes. A second, less powerful, Organ was installed in The Choir in 1841 to accompany the singers.[33]



English: The Choir, with the Bishop's Chair.
Sens Cathedral, France.
Deutsch: Chor/Altarraum der Kathedrale von Sens, Frankreich.
Photo: 3 January 2018.
Source: Own work.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Archbishop's Residence, adjoining the Cathedral, now displays the Cathedral Treasury, and also houses The History Museum of The City of Sens, with an important collection of Gallo-Roman antiquities. The Palace was built in the 13th-Century, with further additions made in the 16th-Century and the 17th-Century. It was restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th-Century.[34]

The Treasury includes a large collection of objects used in Celebrating Mass in the Cathedral, including Crosses, Reliquaries, Chalices, Rings, and a very ornate Reliquary, made for Charlemagne, for a purported fragment of The True Cross. It also includes Clerical Vestments, including a Hat, Robes, and Shoes, worn by Saint Thomas Becket during his time in Sens.[35]

The lower level of The Sens Museum features a reconstruction of a Roman Thermal Bath, with a large Mosaic Floor. The Baths were discovered beneath the gardens of a nearby residence, and were excavated and re-assembled in The Museum in 1910. The central element is a depiction of the legend of The Chariot of The Sun, after The Fall of Phæton.

The Museum has a very diverse collection, including a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, a Sculpture by Rodin, and Art Deco Furniture from the workshop of Raymond Subes, who provided furnishings for The Ocean Liner Normandie.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you, Zephyrinus, for such an amazingly detailed and highly involved story of the extraordinary history of the Cathedral of S. Etienne of Sens, France. It has taken me several days to go through it all!

    I had no idea of Sens’ primacy and importance in the history of Catholic France. What an amazing testament in stone and stained glass, starting from 1135–1140 AD when it was commenced, to surviving the 100 Years’ War, the 7 Years War, the Reformation, the French Revolution (as told here, the scars of which are seen on many of the statues on the tympanum and elsewhere), Napoleon (who generally was much kinder to Catholic sanctuaries than the revolutionaries), WW1 & WW2. And to think no less than Thomas a Becket at one time lived in Sens while in exile, and walked the cathedral floors! And countless other servants of God. Amazing. Thank you, “Dom Z”. -Note by Dante P

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    1. Thank You, Dante P, for your most welcome Comment and contribution to this Article.

      Delighted you found it of interest.

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