The association of Orleans, in English minds, mostly rests upon the events connected with the siege. Its history in the past has been mainly that of bloody warfare and massacre. As the Genabum of Gallia, it was burned by Ceasar in 52 B. C. in revenge for a previous massacre of the Romans. By Aurelian it was rebuilt and named Aurelianum, the progenitor of its present nomenclature. St. Aignan in 451 secured the safety of the city to the cause of Christianity by warding off Attila’s attack.
Clovis captured it in 498, but at his death it became the capital of an independent kingdom which was afterward, in 613, united with that of Paris. Activities no less extensive or vivid followed, till the English besieged the city in 1429, only retiring before the conquering hosts led by the Maid of Orleans on the 7th of May; the Huguenots held it as a stronghold under Coligny; and latterly the Germans occupied it, were driven out, and again reoccupied it as a base in 1870-71. Such, in brief, is a partial record of its troubles and trials, with scarce a reference to a Christian or religious motive, if we except Attila’s unsuccessful attack and Coligny’s Protestant fervour.
The almost legendary part played by Jeanne d’Arc should suffice to impress indelibly upon the mind the chief event in connection with any city with which her name and fame were associated.
In the third century seven bishops were sent out from Rome, to extend the influence of the Church, to Tours, Orleans, Toulouse, Narbonne, Paris, Limoges, and Auvergne; though, in spite of the success with which they met, and the zeal with which they worked, their meetings were chiefly held in the houses of their more opulent converts, and church building at the time appears not to have been so much desired as the dissemination of the Word itself. Since its occupation by the Germans in “‘y,” great contrasting elements have sprung up. Nowhere, not even in the ” up-todate ” Rhine cities of Germany, is better exemplified the trend of the age in which we live. There are notable indications of its modernity in the architecture of public and private buildings, many streets and boulevards of the city being laid out anew and bisecting the older portions.
The Cathedral of St. Croix, of widely contrasting styles and eras, forms a pleasing enough key-note to it all, in spite of its garish crudities. At its best, when viewed from the bridge which spans the well-nigh dry bed of the Loire, it composes well with what is at all times a pleasing prospect, and is set off to great advantage by the fringe of green boulevard along the river bank, – a fine enough setting for an architectural monument of whatever rank, be it new or old, consistent or conglomerate. As for the classification of the architectural style of the cathedral itself, it is an unprincipled mixture of components, but little related to each other. The southern influence is apparent, alike in the scanty remains of the Romanesque, and the restored Renaissance portions, while ‘Gothic peeps out here and there, in no mean proportions, as though it were misplaced and out of its true environment. The cathedral, which was destroyed in 1567 by the Huguenots, in spite of the admonitions of the Condes, is still visible in the fragments of the choir aisles, the fourteenthcentury chapels appearing to have been uninjured. This much remains of the Gothic of Henry IV.’s time. The late seventeenth-century work is a manifest expression of the debasement of Gothic, and such other additions as were made in the reigns of the Louis carry the vulgarities still further, the acme being reached in the pseudo-classical north and south porches, which are sepulchral-looking of themselves, and not even of the most admired variety of the species. The most that can be remarked, considering all the distinctive features, is the fact that this cathedral is the only Gothic church, so ranking, that is not of Mediaeval growth, a fact which may well account for its unsatisfactory style.
The facade follows the usual enough arrangement of three portals, though very ugly ones, flanked by rising towers on either side.
In this case these doorways are of the nondescript variety commonly accepted as base Gothic, but hardly warranting even such a term of endearment. They are in fact flamboyant as to their lines, though of a remarkable poverty as to further embellishment, if we bar a series of misplaced armorial blazonings.
Topping the gables of the portals are a series of circular apertures, with framing of a sort, but without glass, – a poor imitation of what a rose window might be at its worst. Above is an arcaded gallery of nine graceful arches, the first really attractive ornament of this debased faqade. The towers, finished so late as 1789 by M. Paris, the king’s architect, rise loftily some two hundred and eighty feet, with ranges of slight columns and perpendicular lines, which give the grand and imposing effect of height of which the cathedral is undeniably possessed, and which, when viewed from down the Rue Jeanne d’Arc, is without doubt impressive,-far more so than greater intimacy will sustain.
The nave, of a height of one hundred feet, is flanked by double aisles, and in appearance is every way superior to the exterior.
No remarkable art treasures are to be seen, if we except a series of sculptured Stations of the Cross beneath the windows, and the Gothic altars of the transepts.