The last stop on our guided walking tour Atmosphères toulousaines was the St. Etienne Cathedral – St. Etienne being the French name for St. Stephen, the first martyr in Christian history.
This cathedral is described in its own website as a “curious church” and a “church of bricks and stones.” The same website says: “St Stephen in Toulouse is a puzzling cathedral because it is the result of a juxtaposition of buildings that have been either amputated or left unfinished, between the 11th and the 17th century, and even in the 20th century with the North portal.”
Second photo: Sarah giving us a summary of the cathedral’s haphazard development over the centuries.
Third photo: Inside the cathedral.
Fourth photo: Here she is showing us how the cathedral used to look, before parts of it were torn down during the French Revolution and in the 19th century.
Address: Place Saint-Étienne, 31000 Toulouse
Directions: VélÔToulouse station 24
Aerial view and photo on monumentum.fr
Phone: +33 5 61 52 03 82
Next: Grand Monuments of Toulouse
The leaflet, in English, at the entrance explains:
"The Cathedral of St-Stephen surprises and puzzles the visitor whether one looks at it from inside or from outside, since it is the result of a juxtaposition of buildings that have been either amputed or left unfinished, built between the 11th and the 17th century."
The traveller, who on his trip in old Europe, will have seen hundreds of churches with a classical plan, will enjoy leaning against the enormous central pillar (of Jean of Orleans) and discovering to his left the Bishop Isarn's nave, known as Raimondine nave, the most ancient part and on his right the choir of the Canons with the stalls, the altar, the ambulatory with twelve chapels .
The tapestries show the life of St-Stephen.
Unfinished and truncated, because of financial difficulties, death of the master of the works, fire, revolution, St-Etienne is a perfect example of setbacks that made this cathedral, which should have been a rival of Reims according to the bishop Bertrand de l'Isle, more surprising than beautiful.
Le dépliant fort intéressant mis à disposition à l'entrée de l'église indique fort justement:
"Autant à l'intérieur qu'à l'extérieur, cette cathédrale surprend et déconcerte: elle est le résultat d'une juxtaposition d'édifices amputés et inachevés, du XIe au XVIIe siècles et même jusqu'au XXe siècle (portail nord).
A travers les caprices d'un plan et de structures aux formes asymétriques; la cathédrale de Toulouse réalise un ensemble plein d'intérêt par l'abondance et la variété des œuvres qu'elle renferme."
Le voyageur, qui dans son périple en cette vieille Europe, aura vu des centaines d'églises au plan classique, sera ravi en s'adossant à l'énorme pilier central (de Jean d'Orléans) de découvrir à sa gauche la nef Raimondine et à sa droite le chœur des Chanoines.
FOR TAPESTRY AMATEURS.
During my visit of the basilica St Etienne I had been intrigued by the numerous tapestries hung above stalls because it is a less frequent element of decoration in a church than frescoes or paintings, at least according to my experience. (The cathedral of Strasbourg is another rare example of this type of decoration).
The origin of these tapestries seemed uncertain because the brands of tapestry makers, being generally in the margins, are not visible. We know on the other hand that the manufacturers of Flanders or Aubusson exported their tapestries all over Europe.
My curiosity was satisfied when I discovered Pascal-François Bertrand's article: " the trade of the tapestry in the 16th century: artistic exchanges between Toulouse, Aubusson and Flanders ". This specialist identifies Jean Péchaut as being the tapestry maker which executed in the years 1532-1533 "the History of Holy Etienne".
POUR AMATEURS DE TAPISSERIES.
Lors de ma visite de la basilique St Etienne j'avais été intrigué par les nombreuses tapisseries pendues au dessus des stalles car c'est un élément de décoration moins fréquent dans une église que les fresques ou tableaux, du moins d'après mon expérience. (La cathédrale de Strasbourg est un autre exemple rare de ce type de décoration).
Leur origine semblait incertaine car les marques de licier, se trouvant en général dans les marges, n'étaient pas visibles. L'on sait d'autre part que les fabricants des Flandres ou d'Aubusson exportaient leurs tapisseries dans toute l'Europe.
Ma curiosité fut satisfaite en découvrant un article de Pascal-François BERTRAND: "Le commerce de la tapisserie au XVIe siècle : échanges artistiques entre Toulouse, Aubusson et les Flandres". Ce spécialiste identifie Jean Péchaut comme étant le licier qui exécuta dans les années 1532-1533 "l'Histoire de Saint Etienne".
St Etienne (St Stephen) is the Cathedral of the City of Toulouse. It is odd looking for a reason. It is actually the merging of two unfinished churches. There was an earlier church standing on this ground as early as the 800's but the present church dates from the 1200's.
St Etienne is a mixture of so many styles that you really walk away with the feeling that its a church that can't make up its mind what it wants to be. Started as early as the 1200's, it wasn't truly finished until the 1900's. It has a cross section of all the styles from the intervening years. Interestingly, it also melds Northern and Southern French styles.
In talking to locals, they always seemed to ask what I thought of St Etienne. I'm not sure why. Perhaps they were trying to find out if I was able to see beyond the overwhelming sense of disharmony (chaos even) to appreciate some of the individual aspects of the Cathedral.
My recommendation- not a must see truthfully. There are many more beautiful, historic churches in Toulouse.
Weekdays- 8am to 19h
Weekends-9am to 19h
Toulouse was not a vigorous tapestry weaving center in the 16C, but at least one set from that time exists in the Cathedral (and another example is in the Angers Tapestry Museum (which we have seen but do not remember and did not photograph). At the time we visited Toulouse we were not yet fascinated by this Art Form, yet it is an integral part of medieval culture not to be ignored. Because of our ignorance these views are casual abstractions from other photographs and we do not know the details other than that they are from the Life of St.-Etienne. (See the Tip by Breughel at this site).
After the fire in 1609, the church spent its funds on wood sculpture : an organ case in 1614 and choir stalls by Pierre Monge, the glass of the apse in 1612 by Jean & Arnaud de Moles (glass painters of Auch), statuary (17 & 18 C) and gargoyles.
The oldest glass in the church is in the Rose Window inserted in the West Facade in the 13C, originally an imitation of the one in the Paris Cathedral (it has been modified in the 15C to accommodate the west doors making aberrations in both with the removed pieces of tracery now in the Augustinian Museum). Much 15C glass was spared in the roof fire in the 17C and is in the ambulatory chapel right of the axis. It contains figures of King Charles VII and dauphin Louis XI who is kneeling, both garbed in fleur-de-lis. The glass high in the apse is 17C.
The main features of St.-Etienne are the great single vaulting of the nave and its misalignment with the immense 5 bay Flamboyant Gothic choir. The retable behind the altar is 17C as are the surmounting stained glass windows of the apse. (There is older glass below in the ambulatory). The church has an unusual set of 16C tapestries, now hung in the 17C choir stalls, created locally. Another fine piece of 17C carving is the organ case placed on the wall of the north nave-transept.
In 1080, while he was building St. Sernin, the Archbishop of Toulouse started on a Cathedral in which to hold Mass for his flock. St.-Etienne was built on the ruins of a previous church starting at the west end. It struggled and in 1211 its piers were removed and a new approach instituted (1218) as befitted the experimentation of the early Gothic period: an aisless nave, 19m wide and high, the widest in Europe at the time! This was achieved using the new light vaulting technics that were appearing.It was complete to the transepts by 1235. This method would be used in other Toulouse churches. In 1272 anothe Bishop cleared the ground beyond for a choir. It was twice the size of the nave (5 bays, an ambulatory and radiaiting chapels and a wooden roof ). Incomplete, due to lack of funds, the roof burned stimulating rebuilding. This led to vaulting , with heavy buttresses and hooking the two structures together by a transept.(relegating the common folk to the nave), with a fine entrance on the North side of the transept. To that door’s west is the military-looking 16C belfry (which now also boasts a 22-bell carillon). Beyond through the gate on the North, the large square of the church occupies much of the grounds where the removed ancillary monastery buildings once stood. Renovation, addition and misalignment seem to be the main themes of the Cathedral. Even the 13C Rose (originally in imitation of Notre Dame de Paris but later changed) is misaligned with the 15C west front door.
The Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse is a magnificent structure that looms large over what would otherwise be a comfortable bourgeois retail section of the city. In between stores and galleries, the massive cathedral rises up, bounded by a well-kept park on one side, and an airy square that often features booksellers on another side (Place de Saint-Étienne). It was built around 1070 and is the official cathedral for the city of Toulouse. The sheer size of the building should give any visitor an indication of the important of the building in the city’s religious and cultural life. The building had various renovations and additions, the last of which was at the beginning of the 17th century – something that should be obvious to any visitor, as the various styles can be seen as you wander through the church. The western side of the church (the one that gives onto Place Saint-Étienne) is particularly odd, as it has a roof that slopes to the right only, a fairly start contrast from the rest of the church as it extends east. Inside, you cannot help but be awe-struck by the sheer size of the church and its massive vaulting ceilings, the enormous stained glass windows and the chapels that are larger than some churches. It is said that on major events, the church might welcome 2000 people – and that’s not even capacity!
This cathedral offers an unsymetrical aspect: it results from juxtaposition of succevely built churches.
The uniqueness of the cathedral is that it presents two very distinct styles: a Roman part in the back of the church (the raymondine nave) and a Gothic part (the choir).
The Saint-Etienne Cathedral
This church is disconcerting in appearance. It was built over a number of centuries (11th to 17th) in an architectural combination of Languedoc and French Gothic. It is extremely rich in its details with its stained-glass windows, large rose window, tapestries and 17 chapels.