Gothic east end of Cathedral of St. Julian, Le Mans, Pay de la Loire (Maine), France. The long axial chapel is the Chapel of the Virgin.
The nave of the Cathedral of St. Julian is Romanesque with its rounded arches and thick pillars. The size of the east end is not immediately obvious since the ambulatories and chapels are not visible from the central Romanesque nave.
The Gothic east end of the Cathedral is an elaborate chevet with double ambulatories and 13 projecting chapels. Note that there are upper and lower clerestory windows.
Looking into the axial chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Jesse Tree, window # 9, is on the left. It is one of two Jesse Tree windows at the Cathedral of Le Mans.
The city of Le Mans was a Roman city, Civitas Cenomanorum. It became Christian in the 4th century, and Julien was the first bishop of Le Mans. An 11th century Romanesque church had been built on the site.
It was in this Romanesque cathedral that Geoffrey V (Plantagenet), Count of Anjou married Matilda, the daughter and heir of King Henry I of England in 1128. She was 11 years Geoffrey's senior and already the widow of Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor. Though she was claimant to the throne of England after the death of her father Henry I (and youngest son of William the Conqueror), her cousin Stephen of Blois became king of England. She invaded and a protracted civil war called The Anarchy ensued from 1139 until 1148, when she withdrew to Normandy. The eldest son of Matilda or Maud and Geoffrey, Henry, was baptized at the Le Mans cathedral in 1133. He became King Henry II of England in 1154. After Geoffrey of Anjou died in 1151, he was buried at the Cathedral of St. Julian.
The cathedral at Le Mans was damaged by fires in 1134 and 1137. The repairs were completed about 1158. But as the 13th century began, the Cathedral seemed to be too small and too dark. A new bishop was consecrated in 1216, Maurice. So in 1217, permission was sought from King Philip II Augustus to demolish part of the city wall of Le Mans so the the east end of the Cathedral could be much enlarged during the bishopic of Maurice. Work on the chevet began in 1217 and continued to 1254 when the relics of St. Julian were transferred and the new choir dedicated by Bishop of Le Mans, Geoffroy de Loudon, on April 24, 1254. The Gothic rebuilt choir was expanded outward with a double ambulatory. Then 13 projecting chapels were built on the east end of the cathedral. The height of the choir was extended upward as well requiring new bifurcated flying buttresses. The floor plan of the cathedral looks on paper rather like a lollipop with the large rounded east half of the church attached to a narrow nave stick.
The axial chapel is the longest and is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The chapel is usually called the Chapel of the Virgin, but if the church were English, it would be called the Lady's Chapel. In this chapel is the older of the two Jesse Tree windows, window #9. Made about 1235, this window has been severely damaged by corrosion. Even with the limitations imposed by the damaged glass, the design and execution of the Jesse window is more sophisticated than the second Jesse Tree window, #110.
Window # 9 on the north wall of the Chapel of the Virgin.
Photo credits for window # 9: Painton Cowen
Photo credits for window # 9: Painton Cowen
Derail of the top of Window #9. Jesus Christ is seated with his right hand raised in blessing and his left hand holding a book. There are seven doves above his head. On either side are two figures with scrolls. There is 19th century restoration.
Detail of the the Virgin Mary. She is holding on to the white Jesse Tree vine and holding a palm branch in her left. She is accompanied by Isaias or Isaiah with obvious restoration.
Detail of sleeping Jesse. At the bottom are the opening words of Isaiah 11.1 in Latin: egredietur virga de radice Iesse et (See the first blog on Radice Jesse.)
The Jesse figure is asleep in an elegant golden bed. Jesse is wearing a red Jewish cap. This may be the first Jesse Tree window that has the figure of Jesse spread into two sections of the panel. On the left is a kneeling figure who is probably the donor since there is no nimbus nor miter to indicate a saint or archbishop.
The second Jesse Tree window in the Le Mans cathedral is found on the south side of the choir in the lower clerestory windows that have five lancet panels in each window. The Jesse Tree is the center panel of window #110. The panel has the basic five figures of the stacked pattern of Jesse Tree, from the top-Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, King Solomon, King David and Jesse.
Picture of the full five panels of clerestory window #110. The Jesse Tree is the center panel
Photo credits for window# 110: Stuart Whatling
Jesus Christ seated with seven blue and white doves. On either side of him are two angels swinging thuribles very vigorously. (At that height there should be some charcoal or incense falling out.) This may be the first window where Christ is accompanied by censing angels.
The next panel down is Virgin Mary crowned and carrying a palm branch in his left hand. At some point in time when I write about the representation of St. Mary, I will comment more on her iconography. Sometimes she hold a prayer book, at other times a palm branch, sometimes a lily and sometimes a scepter in her role as Queen of heaven. Meredith Lillich in her book, Armor of Light, comments that presenting St. Mary holding a palm occurs several times among the stained glass windows at Le Mans Cathedral. The source for this is a legend recounted by Gregory of Tours in De Gloris Martyrum about the death of Virgin Mary. The palm is given to her by the angel announcing her death. Mary subsequently passes the palm to John. Lillich noted that in western art, Mary is sometimes shown with a palm at her Assumption, though sometimes it is a scepter. In the Le Mans Jesse window in the nave, St. Mary is holding to the white Jesse Tree vine with her right hand. She is accompanied by an unidentified saint with a green nimbus and an Old Testament prophet with the green pointed hat. Note that the cartoon for the figures of the prophet (pointed hat) and saint (nimbus) are reversed and reused alternately with the second king (King Solomon), the first king (King David), and yet again with Jesse. The reuse of the cartoons undoubtedly reduced the cost of making the window.
A pointed hat or Jewish cap, pilleus cornutus, was used in the Middle Ages to identify Jews. It was not required until 1215. The Fourth Council of the Lateran was convoked by Pope Innocent III in 1213 and convened in Rome in 1215. Among the canons passed was Canon 68 that decreed "that such persons [Jews and Saracens] of either sex, in every Christian province and at all times, are to be distinguished in public from other people by the character of their dress..." ( Fourth Lateran Council (1215) <https://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/LATERAN4.HTM#67). In stained glass windows the Jewish cap is often made with yellow glass to make it easier to identify. An example is the figure on the right in the first king above Jesse panel.
Detail of the panel with crowned Virgin Mary
The two kings below St. Mary both hold scepters in the left hand and grasp the white Jesse Tree vine with the right. Nothing distinguishes the two kings from each other. Only tradition names the first king above Jesse as David and the second king as Solomon. The side figures hold banderoles but nothing is written on them to identify the figures.
Detail of second generic king of Judah above Jesse, usually King Solomon. He holds a scepter as does King David.
Detail of first king above Jesse, usually King David, though here the figure is a generic king. King holds a scepter. Note the the halo and hat are both yellow in this panel.
Jesse is asleep in bed with the white Jesse tree coming from his body. This Jesse Tree window is usually dated later, about 1250 or so, than the window in the Chapel of the Virgin. This window with its repeated figures and primary color palette is simpler and much less elegant that window #9. The only new element the window adds to the iconography of the Jesse Tree window are the two angels with thuribles.
This Jesse Tree window uses much more red glass than the previous Jesse Tree windows discussed. There is plenty of blue in the mandorlas and in the fabric. The background color though is red and now blue. On the south side of the choir, the person viewing the window will notice the brighter red given the presence of more sunlight. I am sure though that the impression of whether this is a red window or a blue window will depend on the angle of the sun by season as well as the time of day.
Detail of Jesse asleep
In the floor plan of the chevet at the bottom the page, the sites of the two 13th century Jesse Tree windows are marked with purple lines. Window # 9 is located on the north wall of the axial chapel and window #110 is among the lower clerestory windows on the south side of the choir.
Meredith P. Lillich. The Armor of Light: Stained Glass in Western France, 1250-1325.(1994). Berkeley and Los Angeles. University of California Press.