Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cathedral of Saint-Gatien at Tours, France

     The Cathedral of Saint-Gatien in Tours is named for the founding bishop of Tours who in the 3rd century was sent to Christianize the pagans of Gaul along with six other men.  According to the Ecclesiastical History of the Franks written by Gregory of Tours in the 6th century, Gatianus was sent to Tours, along with Trophimus to Arles, Paul to Narbonne, Saturninus to Toulouse, Dionysis (Denis) to Paris, Stremonius to Clermont, and Martial to Limoges. There were sent year 250/251 from Rome.  Gatien preached and worked in the area of Tours until his death in 301.  Christianity was not well established at the time of his death. There was a 36 year gap before the next bishop was chosen.  It was not until Martin of Tours was acclaimed bishop in 371 that Tours and its vicinity could be said to be Christian.  Even Martin spent much of his time converting people from their old religions, and placing them in groups under the supervision of priests and monks.  This method of organization eventually became the parish.

The west front of the Cathedral of Saint-Gatien.

Nave of Saint-Gatien looking east

East end of choir, looking through the ambulatory to the chapels beyong and showing the three lancet windows with tracery above in the choir clerestory
Photo credit for all Jesse Tree stained glass(unless otherwise noted): Dr. Stuart Whatling

Stained glass windows of the east end of cathedral.  Jesse Tree window is in the center of the right window.

     The present Cathedral of Saint Gatien was started in 1170 after the the previous cathedral was damaged by fire in 1166. The Cathedral was not completed until the mid 16th century when the west facade and towers were built. The cathedral was built in many different stages and the work from the 1170s was in the Romanesque style.  The east end of the church including the chancel, choir, ambulatory and projecting chapels seems to have been built during 1236 to 1279 under the architect (or maitre de l'oeuvre), Etienne de Mortagne.  The building of the chevet was undoubtedly interrupted by the Crusade tax that was imposed from 1248-1252. Apparently the upper part of the chancel was redesigned during the hiatus to more resemble Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.  The nave was not finished until about 1450 and thus it was built in the Flamboyant Gothic style. The end date for the construction is usually given as 1547 when the south tower of the west face was finally finished.

     At the east end of the choir in Bay 202, there is a Jesse Tree stained glass window.  It is the center lancet of three lancet window.  The other two lancets tell the stories of the infancy of Christ, from biblical sources including the Annunciation, the Visitation, Nativity, the visit from the Magi, the killing of the children of Bethlehem (Holy Innocents), the Presentation at the Temple, and the Flight into Egypt.  Perhaps it is because the flanking windows tell the early life of Jesus, there are no flanking prophets in the Jesse Tree window.  What is the need to include reminders that the prophets seem to foretell the coming of a Messiah, when the stories of the Messiah are already part of the window?  In the next blog, I am going to step away from discussing single lancet French Jesse Tree stained glass windows and write about typology and the medieval mindset when it came to reading the Bible.

    In the meantime, back to the central panel Jesse Tree in the clerestory of the Choir at the Cathedral in Tours. There are only five figures in the Jesse Tree. The bottom panel in split in half horizontally and shows the occupation of the donors of the window, drapers. More on this below.  The five figures are sleeping Jesse, two generic Kings of Judah without iconography to identify them as Kings David and Solomon, Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ seated with three doves.

 Whole window in bay 202.  The outside lancets are referred to as the Infancy of Christ.  The center lancet is a five figure Jesse Tree.  The Three bottom panels are the donors, Matthew, his wife Dionisia or Denise and furriers and drapers in the central panel.

 Jesus Christ seated with right hand held up in blessing and brown book in the left hand.  Note that there are three doves, the symbol of the Trinity.

 Virgin Mary holding a green palm branch in her right hand.  Her left hand is held in blessing and not grasping to the Jesse Tree vine.

 Unidentified King of Judah grasping the Jesse Tree vine.  This is normally the position of King Solomon.

Unidentified King of Judah grasping Jesse Tree vine with both hands.  This would normally be King David.
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Sleeping Jesse with tree trunk growing from his body.
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     The windows in the clerestory of the choir of St. Gatien at Le Mans are usually dated to the 1260s. In the archives of Tours, there is a book entitled Liber statutorum Ecclesiae Turonensis that gives the name of Richard le Vitrier who lived nearby or was a neighbor to Etienne de Mortagne, the master of works for the cathedral. It is to Richard that the glass of the choir is attributed. It was made after the Jesse window in Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and some art historians see the influence of Sainte-Chapelle on Tours, though, I really do not (but then I would be considered an untrained eye.).  The stained glass windows at Sainte-Chapelle were very influential in the development of stained glass elsewhere in France.  Yet the Jesse Tree window at Tours does not bear much resemblance to the very tall Jesse Tree window at Sainte-Chapelle.  The window at Tours is much less dominated by the theme of kingship.  It is smaller and simpler in design than the Jesse Tree in Paris. There is much more yellow and green glass in the Tours window than is used in Paris.  Moreover the Tours window has more resemblance to the Jesse Tree window at Saint-Julien, Le Mans, which was made perhaps a decade before the Jesse window at Tours. Both the Jesse windows at Le Mans and Tours may have been made after Sainte-Chapelle was glazed.   Both windows at Le Mans and Tours are different from the Jesse Tree at Saint Maurice, Angers, another relatively close cathedral to Le Mans and Tours, and made about the same time. Angers is a red and blue glass window primarily.  It appears to me that the Jesse Tree windows of Le Mans and Tours represent a regional variation in the Jesse Tree that is distinct from Paris.

     At the bottom of the Infancy of Christ and Jesse Tree windows at Tours are three panels showing the donors.  At the bottom left is a panel with a knelling man who is identified at Matthew.  In abbreviated text it says that Matthew gave [this window] to the Holy Mary.  On the right panel is a woman knelling who is identified as Dionisia (Denise) his wife.  One can infer that he is a wealthy man since the sleeve of his cloak appears to be furred lined.

The donor, Matthew
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The donor's wife, Denise.

    The center panel is divided horizontally.  The upper panel depicts a man showing a fur-lined cloak to two women.  The pattern of the fur lining is called vair because it is made from the dark back fur and white belly fur the Sciurus vulgaris or red squirrel that is sown together.  In the bottom panel a man measures out yardage of a striped fabric for two men, one of whom is wearing a green hooded cloak.  Thus it is assumed that the two donors were well-to-do drapers or clothiers and furriers from Tours.  This Jesse Tree window is the first surviving window that has its donors identified.  It is the gift of a merchant and not a noble or senior clergy member.  The window is remarkable for its simplicity of design and colorful use of primary and secondary colors.

Center donor panel with vair cloak and stripped fabric representing furrier and drapers.


Linda M. Papanicolaou. Stained Glass from the Cathedral of Tours:The Impact of the Sainte-Chapelle in the 1240s .(1981) Metropolitan Museum of Art Journal. 15:53-66.

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