The power and wealth of the Dukes of Burgundy, whose influence extended northward to the Netherlands, where they often held court at Ghent and Bruges, were, in a way, responsible for the opulence and splendour of the life of the day. . So, too, Burgundian architecture became a term synonymous for the amplitude and grandeur with which many of its institutions were endowed.
The reign of Philippe le Bon, with that of Charles the Bold, the most ambitious prince who ever graced his line, was the Augustan age of Burgundian art. It was the dream of the latter to reincarnate the old Burgundian kingdom by annexing Lorraine and subduing the advancing Swiss Confederacy, an ambition which failed, like many others as, or more, worthy. The conquered duke was killed at Nancy, and was finally buried in Notre Dame at Bruges.
The Cathedral of St. Benigne is an outgrowth from the old abbey church, from which the Italian monk, Guillaume, set forth to found that remarkable series of monasteries in Normandy and Brittany. It is said, too, that he crossed the Channel, and had a large share in the works which were erected at that period in the south of England. The bishop’s throne has been established in this church only since the Revolution, caused by the destruction of his former cathedral. The early foundations of the old abbey date far back into antiquity, but the present cathedral dates only from the thirteenth century. Commonly considered as of Gothic style, it is in every way more suggestive of the late Romano-Byzantine type, or at least of the early transition. There is, to be sure, no poverty of style; but there is an air of stability and firmness of purpose on the part of its builders, rather than any attempt to either launch off into something new or untried, or even to consistently remain in an old groove.
As a fact, it is not a very grand building. Its choir is small, and its transepts short. In its plan, at least, it resembles the Byzantine form much more than the elongated Gothic, where every proportion seems to reach out to its utmost extent.
The west facade is truly fine in the disposition of its parts and arrangements. It suggests, more than anything, a traditional local style, favouring nothing else to any remarkable degree except the German solidity so often to be noted in eastern France. The towers are firmly set with unfrequent pointed openings. The central portal and vestibule are deep, and rich with a sculptured ” Martyrdom of St. Peter ” and a delightfully graceful arcade just above the portal arch, and another crossing the gable and joining the towers in a singularly effective manner. A somewhat heavy but rich pointed window of three lights, surmounted by a quatrefoil rose, with a slight needle-like spire which rises just above the gable, completes the ensemble.
The earlier work, seen at its best in the interior, is that of the choir and transepts, where again the distinguishing features are local. In the transepts the arches open directly on the side chapels, the southern arm being gorgeous with brilliant glass. The windows of choir and transepts throughout are richly traceried and set. The choir itself is destitute of either ambulatory or chapels.
A lantern is placed at the crossing, supported by gracefully foliaged shafts.
The nave is of a much later period, and is not of the richness of the portion lying to the eastward. The windows of the clerestory, in particular, will not be considered of the excellence of those of either transept or choir.
The south tower encloses the tombs of Jean sans Peur and Philippe le Hardi. The crypt contains the tomb of St. Benignus.