Burgundy Sights

Cathédrale St-Étienne

  • Religious Building/Site/Shrine
  • Fodor's Choice

Published 10/16/2017

Fodor's Review

Historically linked more with Paris than Burgundy, Sens was the country’s ecclesiastical center for centuries. Today it's still dominated by Cathédrale St-Étienne, once the French sanctuary for Thomas à Becket and a model for England's Canterbury Cathedral. You can see the 240-foot south tower from miles away. As you draw near, the pompous 19th-century buildings lining the town's narrow main street—notably the meringue-like Hôtel de Ville—can give you a false impression; in fact, the streets leading off it near the cathedral (notably Rue Abelard and Rue Jean-Cousin) are full of medieval half-timber houses. On Monday the cathedral square is crowded with merchants' stalls, and the beautiful late-19th-century market hall—a distant cousin of Baltard's former iron-and-glass Halles in Paris—throbs with people buying meat and produce. A smaller market is held on Friday morning.

Begun around 1140, the cathedral once had two towers: one was topped in 1532 by an elegant

though somewhat incongruous Renaissance campanile that contained two monster bells; the other collapsed in the 19th century. Note the trefoil arches decorating the exterior of the remaining tower. The gallery, with statues of former archbishops of Sens, is a 19th-century addition, but the statue of St. Stephen (aka St-Étienne) between the doors of the central portal, is thought to date to late in the 12th century. The vast, harmonious interior is justly renowned for its stained-glass windows: the oldest (circa 1200) are in the north transept and include the stories of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son; those in the south transept were manufactured in 1500 in Troyes and include a much-admired Tree of Jesse. Stained-glass windows in the north of the chancel retrace the story of Thomas à Becket: Becket fled to Sens from England to escape the wrath of Henry II before returning to his cathedral in Canterbury, where he was murdered in 1170. Below the window—which shows him embarking on his journey in a boat, and also at the moment of his death—is a medieval statue of an archbishop said to have come from the site of Becket's home in Sens. Becket's aube (vestment) is displayed in the annex to the Palais Synodal.

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Sight Information


Pl. de la République, Sens, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, 89100, France



Published 10/16/2017


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