Cambrai is one of that quartette of cathedral cities of northern France which in no sense take rank as ecclesiastical shrines of even ordinarily interesting, much less beautiful, attributes. Of the other three, Arras, St. Omer, and Boulogne, St. Omer alone is possessed today of anything approaching the great Gothic churches which were spread broadcast throughout France during the five centuries of church building in the middle ages.
In manners and customs, and indeed in speech to some extent, these cities all partake somewhat of the locale of those of the Low Countries. These attributes, which have retained their original identities across the borders, were for many centuries, and even so late as the seventeenth century, existent in French Flanders. Curiously enough, in none of these cities are any of the primitive Gothic types to be noted in the cathedral churches, though many possess their olden-time belfries and watch towers, preserved today with something of the local pride which evinces itself elsewhere with respect to cathedrals. It is possible that this is due to the fact that this great industrial centre of northern France is more given to the arts of manufacture than to the devotion of church-going or even of church building. Another notable and almost universal feature of these cities are the Renaissance or Romanesque gateways, -silent reminders today of the mediaeval communities which they once protected, and of the warlike invasions of the past.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame de Cambrai is on the site of an older abbey church, which was of the same ugly style as the present edifice itself, but which dated, however, only from the early eighteenth century. The present building is said to furnish a replica, of the vintage of 1859, of the tasteless and crude style of the earlier building. There are statues therein of Fenelon, Bishop Belmas, by David d’Angers, and of Cardinal Regnier; and a series of grisaille windows, after originals by Rubens, by Geeraerts of Anvers.
The chimes of Cambrai rank among the most noted in Europe. They are composed of thirty-nine bells and produce a carillon, ” very agreeable,” says a French authority. They certainly do,-the author can endorse this from a personal knowledge,-and they have not as yet descended to such banalities as popular military marches. The largest bell, given by Fenelon in 1786, weighs 7,500 kilos.