St Etienne Cathedral

The morning of the 5th day of our trip was dedicated to visiting Metz. After having listed the principal attractions of the city and the walks to be made on the streets we reached the conclusion that there was no way we can see all we want, so we better focus on the principal monument of the city – the Saint Etienne Cathedral – and leave everything else for another visit sometimes in the future.

Marche Couvert (Cardinal's Palace)

The present structure of the cathedral was built between the 13th to the 16th century, on a location where previous churches have existed, maybe as early as the 5th century when the cult of St. Etienne became popular in the Christianized area of Western Europe. A massive renovation took place in the 19th century when Metz was under German rule, following a fire caused by fireworks shot on the occasion of the visit of kaiser Wilhelm II. It is located between the Place d’Armes (see the night photo in the previous entry of the blog) and the Marche Couvert which is in fact the building that was planned to host the palace of the cardinal if the French Revolution and the Napoleon secularization would not have spoiled the plans.

Statues on Portail de la Vierge

Portail details

The 13th and 14th building is a typical example in the series of Gothic style cathedrals that can be found in many of the mains cities of France, and the restoration in the 19th century keeps the atmosphere in what can be described as neo-gothic style. The statues and ornaments on the big gates and external facades are an argument in this direction.

interior of St Etienne Cathedral

When entering the cathedral the first thing that impresses the visitor is the height of the nave – the Metz structure is the third tallest of all churches in France.

stained-glass windows and ceiling

Then the eye is attracted by the fabulous combination between the architecture and stained-glass work. It is maybe the most impressive collection of stained glass windows that can be found in any church in France and maybe world wide, with works of masters of the genre spreading from the 13th to the late 20th century. The effect is spectacular as an ensemble, and at the same time each group and collection of windows is worth being examined closely, understood and admired.

14th century Herman de Munster's windows (West facade)

Although it is not the oldest in the church, the work on the Western wall is the most impressive of the ones dated from the 14th century. It belongs to master Herman de Munster and was created around 1384. The huge rosary has 11 meters and diameter and the images of the apostles can be admired in the windows below. For this superb masterpiece the artist was rewarded with the honor to be buried in the church, actually under his work – something very rare at that time for somebody not belonging to royalty or high clergy.

16th century windows by Valentin Bousch

The chapels in the Southern wing of the cathedral are decorated with windows created in the 16th century by Valentin Bousch. The techniques, expressiveness and care for the representation of human figures and bodies specific to the Renaissance are present in the superposed registers representing saints and bishops of Metz.

Chapelle du Saint Sacrement - windows by Jacques Villon

Jumping to the 20th century I was impressed by the windows that decorate the Holy Sacrament chapel designed by the Cubist artist Jacques Villon.  The window in the middle represents the crucifixion, on the left side the Last Supper presented as a Passover Seder, and on the right side the wedding at Cana and an Old Testament representation of Moses.

1960 windows by Chagall inspired by the book of Genesis

It is however the windows by Marc Chagall that represent the pick of the art of stained-glass windows in 20th century present in the church. I have seen windows created by Chagall in other churches in the United States and in Zurich, and I know about famous works in the genre at the United States building in New York and at the Knesset in Jerusalem. I believe that the works in Metz created between 1960 and 1963 represent some of the best such works of Chagall.

1960 windows by Chagall - Jesus, Moses, king David

The representation of Christ on the cross overlooks from the tears-shaped rosary. Most of the surface in Chagall’s windows in Metz however represent characters from the Old Testament.

1963 windows by Chagall - Genesis

The theme of Genesis dominates many of the windows in Metz – here are scenes from the book of Genesis from the Creation, life in the Garden of Eden, the original scene and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.

altar table from the period of Charlemagne

There are more interesting things and  corners to be seen in the cathedral. The crypt gathers a number of art and religious objects created during the many centuries of history of the churches that were successively built on this place. Beyond objects related to the history of the monster of Graoully said to have haunted the city for many generations, the visitor can admire even older objects, like the stone altar table from the period of Charlemagne – older than one thousand years.

medieval sculpture

A collection of wonderful wooden statues representing saints and monks date back from the 13th century, the period when the present church started to be built.

16th century descent to the Tomb

Last piece of art from the collection in the crypt that I liked and photographed is the well preserved statuary group dated from the 16th century and representing the descend in the Tomb. Original colors are very well preserved, which is quite rare, allowing for the group to be seen in a way close to the one it was seen by the contemporaries of the artists.

tryptich on pillars

Before leaving the church and the city of Metz for the next point in our itinerary (which will be one of the most moving and high interest stops in our trip) I took a last photo of a painting on three adjoining pillars building an original triptych in a style that reminds the old Byzantine icons.