Gothic Cathedrals of France and Their Treasures

By Marcel Aubert | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Flowering of Gothic Art

SENS

Close beside the cathedrals with tribune galleries, a great cathedral, almost as old as Saint-Denis, was built in the middle of the twelfth century on the borders of Burgundy, Champagne and the Ile-de-France--the cathedral of Sens, in the See of Paris, without tribune galleries and covered with domical vaults on intersecting diagonal ribs, with lancet windows beneath their compartments. Begun by Archbishop Henri Singlier ( 1122-1143), a friend of St Bernard, the choir was completed by the consecration in 1164, while the nave was finished in about 1175-1180. Its proportions differ from those of the churches with tribune galleries. The nave is wider and not so high: 44 feet 4 inches wide and 80 feet 5 inches high at Sens, and 41 feet wide and 108 feet 6 inches high at Paris. The aisles are higher: 39 feet 10 inches at Sens as compared with 32 feet 10 inches at Paris. The vaults are highly domed to direct the thrust towards the ground, while the windows sire of moderate dimensions. The lateral compartments of the vaults of the central nave were rebuilt and the height of the windows increased at the beginning of the thirteenth century when the flying buttresses were added to help carry the thrusts of the high vaults. Evidence of the earlier design is still visible in the present apse. The elevation has three stages: there are no tribune galleries. The main arches spring alternately from massive piers and coupled columns corresponding to the sexpartite vaults which cover the central nave. The design of the triforium gallery above consists of double arches within discharging arches which open beneath the roofs. Above this is the clerestory. The central nave was flanked by aisles, to the north and south of which two chapels opened, forming rudimentary transepts. There was a single chapel at the centre of the ambulatory, reconstructed in the thirteenth century. Others were added in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. At the end of the fifteenth century, the architect, Martin Chambiges, built the great transepts with their beautiful Flamboyant fronts. The southern one looks on to the courtyard of the archbishop's palace, framed by the synodal palace built between 1225 and 1241 on the south, and the buildings of the archiepiscopal palace of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The west front set between two mighty towers--the northern dates from the end of the twelfth century, the southern was reconstructed after its collapse on 5 April 1268--is pierced by three doors. These bear rich, firm, solid sculptures, in the finest tradition of Burgundian art, but with no vestiges of the Romanesque style remaining, either in composition, attitude or drapery. On 23 June 1184, an immense fire devastated the village of Sens. The cathedral did not escape. A few years later,

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