The ancient Civitas Sagiorum of the Romans is now a bishopric, suffragan of Rouen. This ancient Gallic stronghold, which fared hardly in the Anglo-Norman wars, presents today the impression of being a town somewhat smaller than the usual small town of France. It also has this advantage,-it is comparatively unknown to tourists, and likewise to some map-makers; all of which is decidedly in its favour. Seldom is Seez included in the itinerary of the tourist, even though it is situated in the heart of the ” popular province.”
Except for the fact that its charming cathedral is not of the generous proportions first impressed upon one, it is difficult to realize that such a noble architectural memorial should so often be overlooked and apparently neglected by those who might find a great deal of pleasure, and incidental profit, from a contemplation thereof.
As a town of celebrated history, Seez is of far more relative rank than its cathedral, which, in spite of its many beauties and charm of detail, has suffered perhaps more than any other in France, and yet kept a fairly pure early Gothic style; referring to the many additions and repairs made necessary by crumbling walls and sinking foundations.
The worst that has arisen from this unhappy state of affairs is, not that there has been any serious admixture of style, but rather that one gross interpolation has been foisted upon an otherwise symmetrical whole, – the enormous advancing buttresses which flank the portal of the western facade; an addition of the fourteenth century, neither graceful nor decorative, and only made necessary by a tottering wall. A pity it is that some other equally effective method was not adopted.
The cathedral is, in a way, a satisfying representation of the cathedral of our imagination. From a distance, at least, and in comparison with the low-lying structures round about, it certainly appears as of great proportions, uniform and complete in itself. Immediate contact with it somewhat dispels these charms.
All things considered, one finds here, in this idyllic, countrified setting, a very attractive and fairly consistent Mediaeval Gothic church of the epoch contemporary with that of the best work of the northern builders, showing unmistakable evidence of having been laid down on goad lines, and after a good design, in spite of the structural defects of its foundations. From any direction it may be viewed across a quarter of a mile of ploughed fields. The great national highroad, from the Channel to Bordeaux, passes straight as a die through the town, and the cross-country line of the Chemin de-Fer de Ouest ambles slowly northward or southward; with little occurring to break the quietude of local ease. The native is for the most part engaged in garnering from his truck farm, or in carrying its product to the railway, to be transported to market, and pays little attention to the stray traveller who occasionally wanders in to study the architectural offering of the town.
A completed church was here in 1050, having been erected by a monk, Azon by name. This was burned to the ground in an attempt to drive out a robber band which had taken shelter therein. Leo IX. engaged Yves, Count of Bellene and the Bishop of Alenqon, to re build it, and restore its former splendour.
This was in the twelfth century, but, later, owing to the insecure foundations, it was pulled down and rebuilt again. Now nothing remains of the former twelfth and thirteenth century work but the lady-chapel of the choir.
The interior of the nave is, at present, entirely filled with scaffolding, which looks as though it might not be removed for years. As a restorative policy this is commendable and was necessary, but it detracts from one’s intimate acquaintance with details. About the only lasting impression of the nave that can now be obtained is that its proportions are superb, and that its cylindrical pillars, with their foliaged capitals, would be notable anywhere.
In general effect the choir is charming, having gone through the restorative process and apparently suffered little thereby. It presents the unusual basilica form of setting the altar forward on a platform raised a few steps.
The transepts are of quite idyllic proportions, each possessing an ample rose window which makes up in design and framing what it may lack in the quality of glass with which it is set. These transepts, too, have undergone the usual restoration, and have come safely through with little sad effect. It is to be hoped that these continued restorations will be carried out with the same good taste, and in a like consistent manner. If so, there will be presented for the delectation of generations of the near future one of the most pleasing of the smaller cathedrals in all France. The triforium of the choir, and of the nave so far as it can be observed through the obstructing scaffolding, is singularly light and graceful, and the window framing throughout, though entirely lacking notable glass, is of manifest good design.
In fine, then, the general effect of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Seez is one of lightness and grace, and it may be considered as an extraordinarily fine architectural monument, in spite of the anomalies of its west front.
The twin spires rise gracefully for perhaps two hundred and fifty feet, and are after the best manner of the great Gothic builders; of true proportions, and of the dwindling pyramidal form so much approved.
The facade, between the towers and the extraordinary buttresses, is completely filled with an ample Gothic portal, which, though entirely destitute of sculpture, or indeed carving of any sort, offers a significant opportunity for some future efforts in this direction.