Chalons is perhaps first of all famed as the scene of Attila’s great defeat in the fifth century, one of the world’s fifteen decisive battles.
The Cathedral of St. Etienne is not usually considered to be a remarkable structure; but it is thoroughly typical and characteristic of a locale, which stamps it at once with a mark of genuineness and sincerity. Of early primitive Gothic in the main, it shares interest today with the four other churches of the city, not overlooking Notre Dame de l’Epine, some five miles distant to the northward, one of the most perfectly designed and appointed late Gothic churches which the world has ever known. It has been called a ” miniature cathedral,” using the term, it may be supposed, in the sense of referring only to a magnificently ornate church. It is indeed worth a pilgrimage thither to see this true gem of architecture in a wholly undefiled countrified setting.
The Cathedral at Chalons-sur-Marne follows somewhat the traditions of the German manner of building, at least so far as a certain plainness and lack of ornate decoration in the main body of the church is concerned; likewise in the arrangement of its towers, which lie to the eastward of the transepts; and further with respect to its decidedly Teutonic arrangement of the rounded columns, or, more properly, pillars, of its nave.
In general this thirteenth-century church is in the best style of its era; but the west front presents an incongruous seventeenth-century addition in the whilom classical style of that day, bad as to its art, and apparently badly welded into conjunction with the older portion. The aisles and clerestory windows are of the later decorated period of Gothic, and present, whether viewed from without or from within, an exceedingly fine appearance. Probably the finest and most pleasing impression of the whole structure is that obtained of the interior, with its pillars of nave and choir, of the massive order made familiar in the Rhine churches. A reasonable share of twelfth to sixteenth century glass is still left as its portion, and the general arrangement of the choir, prolonged, as it is, well into the nave, gives a certain majesty to this portion of the church which is perhaps not warranted when we take into consideration that it must perforce dwarf the nave itself. The arrangement, though not common, is by no means an unusual one, and it is recalled also, that it is so employed at Reims.
Situated near the frontier, Chalons-surMarne has ever been subject to that inquietude which usually befalls a border city. German influences have ever been noticeable, and, even today, the significant fact is to be noted that a cure will hear confessions in German, and that services are held in that tongue on ” Saturdays in St. Joseph’s Chapel.”
The Episcopal Palace, behind the cathedral, contains a collection of some sixty paintings, the gift, in 1864, of the Abbe Joannes.