by Douglas Clarkson,
Troyes cathedral in northern France provides a fascinating insight into the visions and divisions of human endeavour.
It is likely that Christianity was introduced to the area of Troyes, in the Champagne region of France, in the third century. Through time the present cathedral site in Troyes has been associated with religious buildings. While a new cathedral was begun around 1200, it was the Archdecon Herve in 1208 who made significant efforts to get the project underway.
In 1228, however, a hurricane destroyed the emerging building and construction had to begin all over again. Delays were subsequently encountered due to the use of inferior stone in the building foundations. Building would continue in a significant way until around 1634 with the completion of the Saint Peter tower and essentially the cathedral has never been completed: the planned Saint Paul tower was never built due to lack of funds. The period of the revolution around 1789 is associated with damage to much of the sculptures around the cathedral’s entrance.
A 110 metre high tower once occupied the central position on the cathedral roof. This was destroyed in a storm in 1700 and was not rebuilt. The cathedral is currently undergoing extensive renovation as part of a seven year project as evidenced by the extensive scaffolding observed in 2010.
The treasures of the cathedral
The cathedral is associated with relics stolen during the siege of Constantinople in 1203. These are claimed to have included relics of various saints and apostles and a fragment of the ‘real cross’. This collection of ‘treasures’ grew until the revolution in 1789 after which time the various items were either dispersed or even deliberately destroyed. The reliquary of St. Bernard of Clairvaux is a noted surviving treasure of the cathedral. In this can be identified the animosity against the Church whipped up by the revolution.
Joan of Arc
Descriptions of the cathedral in various sources invariably omit references to the celebration of mass in the cathedral by Joan of Arc and King Charles VII of Reims on 10th July 1429. This was when the town of Troyes surrendered to the forces of the French King after the raising of the siege of Orleans. A plaque commemorating the 500th anniversary of this event is located near the entrance to cathedral entrance.
South rose window
The rose window in the south of the cathedral is constructed with a 10 degree symmetry – with the formation of 36 separate segments. This indicates a minimisation of stone structural support in the execution of its construction. It is only from the outside of the cathedral that the delicate stone supporting structure is visible. Some elements of round glass – such as the key central section appear to be clear. It is not certain if this is deliberate or part of the current renovations.
The Return of the Prodigal Son
A small chapel of modern design breaks with the Gothic lines of the main cathedral and provides an informal setting for small groups of worshippers. A reproduction of the paining ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ by Rembrandt, whose original is on display in L’Hermitage museum in St Petersurg, provides a touching reminder of the power of forgiveness. The picture is heavily charged with ‘visual symbolism’ used to convey subtleties of meaning.
The central isle of the cathedral conveys the feeling of the ethereal lightness of the construction and provides the impression of enduring values and a place of refuge from the outer world.
James Fergusson, Illustrated Handbook of Architecture – Volume II – Christian Architecture , John Murray, Albemarle Street, London, 1855