Saint Stephen of Sens, the first Gothic cathedral
Head to the Middle Ages and Sens had become an extremely powerful archdiocese. Its archbishop held the title “Primate of the Gauls and Germania” (second only to the Pope), whose influence extended over the dioceses of Chartres, Auxerre, Meaux, Paris, Orléans, Nevers and Troyes.
In 1130, Henri Sanglier, the archbishop of the time, decided to build a cathedral worthy of the power of his archdiocese. It would stand proud and worthy of the importance of the medieval city of Sens
And so it was that he called on a pioneering architect who would propose a revolutionary design of ribbed vaulting. Hence an imposing cathedral came to be, with a simple and continuous shape comprising a central nave and two side aisles. It was at that time the only Gothic cathedral in France and in the world. It was consecrated in 1164 by Pope Alexander III, just as the construction of Notre-Dame de Paris was beginning…
7 things you should know about the cathedral
- Sens cathedral has retained a series of windows allowing the history of the stained glass window to be traced from the 12th to the 19th century.
- One whole stained glass window recounts the end of Thomas Becket’s life, from when he left Sens to his assassination by the King of England’s overzealous barons.
- The Dauphin (heir to the throne), son of Louis XV and father of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X, rests with his wife in Sens Cathedral, as were his wishes. A mausoleum in their memory was erected here.
- The stained glass window depicting the Heavenly Chorus is one of the cathedral’s most beautiful masterpieces.
- The head of Jean du Cognot is hidden between two pillars – it’s up to you to find it!
- The marriage of Saint Louis to Marguerite de Provence was celebrated in the cathedral on 27 May 1234.
- It is worth pausing to look at the exterior sculptures. As well as gargoyles, you will meet some strange mythological and exotic creatures.
Other cathedral treasures can be seen in the Museums of Sens.
The cathedral is illuminated to celebrate its 850th year
Since 2014, Sens Cathedral has been showcased with a sound and light show to mark 850 years since its consecration. Since its first year, the show has welcomed more than 70,000 spectators. It has been a great success and continues to be every summer. The Lumières of Sens have become an unmissable feature of summer in Burgundy, with shows now also taking place in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne.
3 ways to visit the cathedral
A number of enhanced tour options are also available:
- Tour leaflets (on sale at the Tourist Office)
- Audio guides (for hire at the Tourist Office)
- Tours of the cathedral and south tower accompanied by a guide (in June, July and August; by reservation at the Tourist Office)