History of Germany between 487 AD - 843 AD
Numerous small Frankish kingdoms existed during the 5th century around Cologne, Tournai, Le Mans, Cambrai and elsewhere. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Franks created an empire under the Merovingian kings and subjugated the other Germanic tribes. The Merovingian kings of the Germanic Franks conquered northern Gaul in 486 AD. Swabia became a duchy under the Frankish Empire in 496, following the Battle of Tolbiac; in 530 Saxons and Franks destroyed the Kingdom of Thuringia. In the 5th and 6th centuries the Merovingian kings conquered several other Germanic tribes and kingdoms. King Chlothar I (558–561) ruled the greater part of what is now Germany and made expeditions into Saxony, while the Southeast of modern Germany was still under influence of the Ostrogoths. Saxons inhabited the area down to the Unstrut River.
Regions of the Frankish Empire were placed under the control of autonomous dukes of mixed Frankish and native blood. Frankish Colonists were encouraged to move to the newly conquered territories. While the local Germanic tribes were allowed to preserve their laws, they were pressured into becoming Christians.
The German territories became part of Austrasia (meaning "eastern land"), the northeastern portion of the Kingdom of the Merovingian Franks. As a whole, Austrasia comprised parts of present-day France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. After the death of the Frankish king Clovis I in 511, his four sons partitioned his kingdom including Austrasia. Authority over Austrasia passed back and forth from autonomy to kingly subjugation, as Frankish lands were alternately united and subdivided by the Merovingian kings.
In 718, Charles Martel, the Franconian Mayor of the Palace, made war against Saxony because of its help for the Neustrians. His son Carloman started a new war against Saxony in 743, because the Saxons gave aid to Duke Odilo of Bavaria.
In 751, Pippin III, Mayor of the Palace under the Merovingian king, himself assumed the title of king and was anointed by the Church. Now the Frankish kings were set up as protectors of the pope, and Charles the Great launched a decades-long military campaign against their heathen rivals, the Saxons and the Avars. The campaigns and insurrections of the Saxon Wars lasted from 772 to 804. The Saxons and Avars were eventually overwhelmed, the people were forcibly converted to Christianity, and the lands were annexed by the Carolingian Empire.
After the death of Frankish king Pepin the Short in 768 AD, his son Charles consolidated his control over his kingdom and became known as "Charles the Great" or "Charlemagne." From 771 until his death in 814, Charlemagne extended the Carolingian empire into northern Italy and the territories of all west Germanic peoples, including the Saxons and the Baiuvarii (Bavarians). In 800, Charlemagne's authority was confirmed by his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor by the pope on Christmas Day in Rome. Imperial strongholds (Kaiserpfalzen) became economic and cultural centres, of which Aachen was the most famous.
Fighting among Charlemagne's grandchildren caused the Carolingian empire to be partitioned into several parts by the Treaty of Verdun (843), the Treaty of Meerssen (870), and the Treaty of Ribemont. The German region developed out of the East Frankish kingdom, East Francia.
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.