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A leisurely stroll through the history of Sens

A leisurely stroll through the history of Sens

Sens owes its name to a Gallic people : the Senons, who, led by Brennus, made their way into history by defeating Rome. It's the ancient city of Agedincum, where Caesar settled with his legions and which then became a flourishing Gallo-roman city surrounded by imposing walls after 3rd century invasions.

During the Middle Ages, Sens remained the capital city of the Great Senonie, the metropolis of a vast ecclesiastical province encompassing Chartres, Auxerre, Meaux, Paris, Orléans, Nevers and Troyes. The 12th and 13th centuries where glorious periods for the city: the beginning of the construction of the Cathedral, the council confronting St Bernard and Abelard, the stays of Pope Alexander III and Thomas Becket, the wedding of King Saint Louis to Marguerite de Provence took place in the Cathedral.

After being reduced to rubble during the Hundred Years War, the city regained its splendour in the 16th century, which saw (among other things) the construction of the Cathedral transept, the Archbishop's Palace and the House of Abraham... The Wars of Religion and the creation of the Archbishopric of Paris in 1622 caused Sens to lose its prominent role. Only Auxerre, Nevers and Troyes remained under its authority.

The city regained some prosperity during the 18th century, as the building of a certain number of magnificent mansions attests. But the city where the Dauphin, the son of King Louis XIV, was buried came out weakened in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The arrival of the railroad in the 19th century created an economic renewal in the city.

This regained prosperity was asserted during the Third Republic, which saw the construction of the covered market, the theatre and the Town Hall...

Between World Wars I and II, the development of the Spring Fair (April 30th / May 2nd) confirmed the economic role of Sens, which has since become a radiant city at the crossroads of Burgundy, Champagne and Ile-de-France provinces.


Famous people of Sens and the surrounding area

It’s very difficult to choose among the many famous people who have marked the history of Sens and the Senonais. Without going into too much detail about Brennus, who entered into history in 390 bC. by taking over Rome at the head of the Senon tribe, here are a few of the most well known:


Thomas Becket (b. London 1119 - d. Canterbury 1170)

Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, took refuge in Sens from 1166 to 1170 after having fled England because of a grave conflict with the King, Henri II. He met with Pope Alexander III in Sens in 1164 when Henri II sent a delegation of four prelates to the Pope to ask for the Archbishop’s deposition. The Pope reconfirmed Thomas as Archbishop of Canterbury and assigned him to the Pontigny Abbey, where he stayed for two years before coming back to Sens. After he returned to England, he was assassinated on December 29th, 1170. The chancel of the Cathedral of Canterbury was ravaged by fire on September5th, 1174. Guillaume de Sens was called upon to restore the chancel and to erect St. Thomas’ tomb.


Louis IX, called St. Louis (b. Poissy 1214 - d. Tunis 1270)

Although St. Louis wasn’t born in Sens, many events link him to the former royal metropolis. His wedding to Marguerite de Provence on May 27th, 1234 was a major event; the coronation of Marquerite as Queen of France by the Archbishop Gautier took place the next day. He returned several times to Sens. In 1239, he carried the Holy Crown of Thorns, and later had the Sainte Chapelle built in Paris to house it.  In 1248, Louis, accompanied by his wife and brothers, left for the 7th Crusade from Sens. Again in March 1270, St. Louis left for the 8th Crusade from Sens, from which he did not return.


Jean Cousin the Elder (b. Soucy 1490 - d. Paris 1560)

Son of a wine-maker, the scultpor, paintor, and artist Jean Cousin grew up in the countryside not far away from Sens. When he was young, he could see the Sens cathedral where the building work was starting anew, after a stop during the Hundred Year's war. Later, he worked on the building himself, and probably learned the art of stained-glass window making amongst the masters who worked on the cathedral. His most famous work, called "Eva Prima Pandora", was the first nude of the french painting history, and is now owned by the Louvre museum. A house in Sens bears his name but he never actually lived there. A statue, located in the Jean Cousin square was inaugurated in 1890. 


Louis-Jacques Thénard a.k.a Baron Thénard (b. La Louptière 1777 - d. Paris 1857) 

He studied at Sens. He was a well-known chemist at his time and discovered the hydrogen peroxide. 


Stéphane Mallarmé (b. Paris 1842 - d. Valvins 1898)

Called the « Prince of Poets » in 1896, Mallarmé lived in Sens in different parts of his life. He joined the academy of Sens in 1856. Nowadays this school bears his name.


Aristide Bruant (b. Courtenay 1851 - Paris d. 1925): 

A former student of the Sens high school, which he never forgot, he became the star singer and then the owner of the famous cabaret « Le Chat Noir « in Montmartre. He is buried near Sens, in Subligny.