Cathedrals in France

Perpignan Cathedral

Perpignan Cathedral construction was begun in 1324 by King Sancho of Majorca, and later finished in the 15th century. It replaced the Cathedral of Elna, and therefore the church was at first the seat of the Bishop of Elne, and then, from 1602, of the Bishop of Perpignan. The cathedral was built in the Catalan Gothic style, because of its association with the Kingdom of Majorca. It has a wide nave (80 meters long, 18 m wi ...
Founded: 1324 | Location: Perpignan, France

Grasse Cathedral

The medieval church of Notre-Dame du Puy in Grasse was raised to cathedral status in 1244, when the bishop transferred from Antibes to Grasse. Its Provençal Romanesque style has been well preserved throughout the centuries. In the 17th century, an exterior staircase was built, while a chapel dedicated to the Saint Sacrament was added in 1740, in a beautiful Baroque style. The cathedral’s strict, basic style, structur ...
Founded: 1244 | Location: Grasse, France

Saint-Omer Cathedral

Saint-Omer Cathedral is a Roman Catholic former cathedral, a minor basilica. It was formerly the seat of the Bishop of Saint-Omer, but the see was not restored after the French Revolution, being instead absorbed into the Diocese of Arras under the Concordat of 1801. The church is still commonly referred to as the 'cathedral' however. The cathedral is an excellent example of the flamboyant style of gothic architecture of ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Saint-Omer, France

Versailles Cathedral

Versailles Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral and national monument of France. It is the seat of the Bishop of Versailles, created as a constitutional bishopric in 1790 and confirmed by the Concordat of 1801. The cathedral was built as the parish church of Saint Louis before becoming the cathedral of the new diocese. The building is of the mid-18th century: the first stone was laid, by Louis XV in 1743 and the churc ...
Founded: 1743-1754 | Location: Versailles, France

Fréjus Cathedral

Fréjus cathedral, dedicated to Saint Leontius of Fréjus, has been the seat of the Bishop of Fréjus since the 5th century. It is located close to what appears to have been the Roman forum of Fréjus. Elements of Roman buildings, such as columns and walls, were incorporated into its structure. Beginning in late Roman times, the town suffered a series of invasions and was pillaged by Goths, Burgundians, Franks, ...
Founded: 5th century AD | Location: Fréjus, France

Auch Cathedral

Auch Cathedral of Sainte-Marie (1489–1662) is one of the finest Gothic buildings of southern France. Its chief features are 113 Renaissance choir stalls of carved oak and Renaissance stained-glass windows by Arnaud de Moles. The cathedral’s classical facade dates from the 16th and 17th centuries, and its great organ (17th century) is one of the finest in the world for playing Baroque music. The 18th-century archbish ...
Founded: 1489-1662 | Location: Auch, France

Coutances Cathedral

Coutances Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Coutances) is a Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral constructed from 1210 to 1274. It incorporated the remains of an earlier Norman cathedral. Standing 80 metres tall, it dominates the town and can be seen from as far away as the island of Jersey. It is a classic example of the Gothic style of Normandy in its use of long, straight, vertical lines. The construction of the first c ...
Founded: 1210-1274 | Location: Coutances, France

Soissons Cathedral

The construction of the Gothic Soissons Cathedral south transept was begun about 1177, and the lowest courses of the choir in 1182. The choir with its original three-storey elevation and extremely tall clerestory was completed in 1211. This was earlier than Chartres, on which the design was supposed to have been based. Work then continued into the nave until the late 13th century. The single western tower dates from the ...
Founded: 1177 | Location: Soissons, France

Blois Cathedral

Blois Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Louis de Blois) is a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a national monument of France, in Blois. It is the seat of the Bishopric of Blois, established in 1697. This was previously the collegiate church of Saint-Solenne, the original building of which dated from the 12th century. Apart from some traces in the crypt nothing survives of this. The façade and the bell tower were buil ...
Founded: 1697 | Location: Blois, France

Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges Cathedral

Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges Cathedral was originally built in the 12th century in Romanesque style. Over the northern and southern walls there are still Romanesque arches, the floor is made of marble and includes some tombs and sepulchurs. The cloister is also clearly Romanesque and offers an impressive view over the entire valley. The Gothic part is built in the Meridional Gothic style. There is a single nave that is ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, France

Nancy Cathedral

Nancy Cathedral was built at the beginning of the 18th century by architects Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Germain Boffrand. Several paintings by local artists from the 17th and 18th century are exhibited. The great organ of the cathedral of Nancy has been built from 1756 by Nicolas Dupont. One century later (1861), Aristide Cavaillé-Coll signed here its biggest work in France outside of Paris.
Founded: 1703 | Location: Nancy, France

Uzès Cathedral

Uzès Cathedral is a former Roman Catholic cathedral, now a parish church, dedicated to Saint Theodoritus. It was formerly the seat of the Bishops of Uzès, until the diocese was abolished under the Concordat of 1801 and its territory passed to the Diocese of Avignon. In 1877 the territory of the former diocese of Uzès was removed from that of Avignon and added to the Diocese of Nîmes, now the Dio ...
Founded: 1642-1663 | Location: Uzès, France

Vienne Cathedral

Vienne Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Maurice, was the epicopal see of the primate of the ancient Septem Provinciae and of the Archdiocese of Vienne until its abolition confirmed by the Concordat of 1801. It today serves as co-cathedral of the Diocese of Grenoble-Vienne. The present-day building was erected from 1130 onwards. Mentioned as the burial place of the Burgundian king Boso of Provence in 887, no t ...
Founded: 1130 | Location: Vienne, France

Saint-Lizier Cathedrals

Saint-Lizier Cathedral can refer to either of the two former co-cathedrals of the town of Saint-Lizier, Notre-Dame Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Sède de Saint-Lizier) and St. Lizier"s Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Lizier de Saint-Lizier), dedicated to Saint Lycerius. Saint-Lizier falls into two quite separate parts, each with its own cathedral. The lower part contains the old village arou ...
Founded: 1117 | Location: Saint-Lizier, France

Condom Cathedral

Condom Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Peter. The cathedral dominates the town, which sits on a hill above the Baïse River. It was designed at the end of the 15th century and erected from 1506 to 1531, making it one of the last major buildings in the Gers region to be constructed in the Gothic style of south-west France. The church has buttresses all around and there is a 40-metre square tower over the west fr ...
Founded: 1506-1531 | Location: Condom, France

Bastia Cathedral

Bastia Cathedral (Pro-cathédrale Sainte-Marie de Bastia) is a former Roman Catholic cathedral on the island of Corsica. The former Bastia Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Mary, was built from 1495 onwards, with major reconstruction at the beginning of the 17th century. Behind the church stands the chapel of Sainte-Croix, known for its exuberantly decorated interior and for the figure of Christ des Miracles, venerated ...
Founded: 1495 | Location: Bastia, France

Verdun Cathedral

Verdun Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral, and national monument of France. In about 330, Saint Saintin (or Sainctinus) evangelised the city of Verdun, became its first bishop and founded a church dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. In 457 Saint Pulchronius (or Pulchrone), a later bishop, had a cathedral built inside the walls of a ruined Roman building, on the present site. Several buildings were erected and destro ...
Founded: 990 AD | Location: Verdun, France

Toulon Cathedral

The first cathedral at Toulon existed in the 5th century, but no trace of it remains. The present building was begun in 1096 by Gilbert, Count of Provence, according to tradition in gratitude for his safe return from the Crusades. The first three travées, or bays of the nave, remain from the Romanesque 11th century church, and the present Chapel of Saint Joseph was originally the choir apse. The Chapel of Relics ...
Founded: 1096 | Location: Toulon, France

Meaux Cathedral

Meaux Cathedral construction began between 1175-1180, when a structure in Romanesque style was started. Defects in the original design and construction had to be corrected in the 13th century, in which the architect Gautier de Vainfroy was much involved. He had to remove the previous cathedral almost totally and start a new structure in Gothic style. In the later 13th century work was often interrupted due to lack of fund ...
Founded: 1175-1180 | Location: Meaux, France

Dol Cathedral

Dol Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Samson de Dol) was formerly the seat of the Archbishop of Dol, one of the nine ancient bishoprics of Brittany. The archbishopric was suppressed during the French Revolution and abolished by the Concordat of 1801, when it was merged into the dioceses of Rennes and St. Brieuc. The building is notable for its eclectic mix of styles and idiosyncrasies, such as the incomplete north tower ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Dol-de-Bretagne, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.