“Truly rural” is a term which may well be applied to the situation of Senlis, the ancient Civitas Sylvanectensium of the Romans. Quaint and attractive to the eye is the entrance to the town from the railway, with its lowlying roofs, over which tower the spires of the ancient Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Church of St. Pierre. It forms a heterogeneous mass of stone, to be sure, and one which looks little enough, at first glance, like the delicate and graceful cathedral which makes up the mass in part. It is, in reality, a confused jumble of towers and turrets which meets the eye, and it takes some little acquaintance with the details thereof to separate the cathedral from the adjacent church.
The proximity of the sees of Beauvais, Amiens, and Paris perhaps accounts for the lack of importance attached to this cathedral. As for the structure itself, among the minor cathedrals of France, Senlis, with Seez and Countances, must ever rank as the peers of that order, with respect to the grace and beauty of their spires. It may be doubted if even the spires of Chartres are to be considered as more beautiful than the diminutive single example to be seen here, particularly when grouped with its surrounding environment. Individually, as well, its grace and beauty might even take that rank. The demarcation between the base of the tower and the gently dwindling spire is almost entirely eliminated, without the slightest tendency toward debasement in the steeple, which too often is merely a series of superimposed, meaningless, and unbeautiful details. Latterday builders, who want a model for the spire of a moderate-sized Gothic church, could, it would seem, hardly do better than to make a replica of this graceful example.
In its facade, the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Senlis partakes largely of the characteristics of the primitive lowland types, reminiscent, at least, of Noyon or Soissons, and, as such, it may properly be considered and compared with them.
The transepts of the north and south are not grand members, but they are compact and graceful, and the facade of the southern arm is of a highly ornate character, bespeaking a wealth of ambition, if not of ability, on the part of the architect.
The interior, in spite of the lack of sculptured ornament, shows no paucity of style, and, except that it is of the bijou variety, might take rank at once as representative of Gothic style at its best. Under these conditions, the nave is naturally confined, and lacks a certain grandeur both as to width and height.
The choir is of true, though not lofty, proportions, the aisles appearing perhaps too low, if anything, for the height of the nave, which otherwise appears exceedingly generous with respect to the extent of its triforium and clerestory.
The transepts, though shallow, are pos sessed of unusually amplified aisles, there being, as a matter of fact, two in that portion which adjoins the nave on the west, a sufficiently unusual arrangement to warrant comment. The rose windows of the transepts have graceful design and good framing, though the glass is not of the splendour which we associate with the most pleasing examples seen elsewhere.