Annexed to France, in company with Metz and Verdun, in 1556, Toul, situated on the left bank of the Moselle, is today ranked as a fortress of the first order. ” Can be seen in two hours ” – such is the description usually given by the guide-books to the city which contains, in its one-time Cathedral St. Etienne, an example which, with respect to the decorative tracery of its facade savants have declared the equal even of Reims.
One of the three former bishoprics of Lorraine, Toul is none too ample to merit the cognomen of a large town. It once held within its walls, beside the Cathedral, the Church of St. Gengoult, and several parish churches and monasteries. Shorn today of some of these dignities, with its bishopric removed to Nancy, it ranks as a military and strategic stronghold rather than a centre of churchly domination. Since Metz and Strasbourg were given over to the Germans, Toul’s former fortress has been greatly strengthened.
The cathedral itself may truly be said to bear the characteristics of both the German and French manner of building, the western or later end being a superb front, after the French manner, and the easterly or earlier end having a simple apse and long narrow windows, in the German fashion. A comparison has been made by Professor Freeman between the western facade of this church and Notre Dame de Reims. He says, “We are daring enough to think that, simply as a design, the west front of Toul outdoes that of Reims; though it will be hardly needful to prove that, as a whole, Reims far outdoes that of Toul.” Quite noncommittal, to be sure, as was this charming writer’s way; but, of itself, a sort of preparation to the observer for the beauties which he is to behold. Here is the case of a superb richness having been added to a plainer body, and by no means inharmoniously done. The gable is nearly perfect as to its juxtaposition. The towers are higher in proportion than at Reims, giving the effect of being the finished thing as they stand, though lacking spires or pinnacles. The walls are of those just proportions in relation to the window piercings which is again French, as contrasted with a neighbouring example at Metz, where the reverse is the case.
The city was the seat of a bishop as early as the sixth century, and its government was under his control until 1261, when it became a free commune. Finally it was conquered by Henry IL, and its future assured to France by the Treaty of Westphalia.
The cathedral dates in part from Romanesque remains of the tenth century, but its entire interior arrangements were much battered during the Revolution.
The choir and transept are of the best of thirteenth-century building, while the nave and side aisles are of the century following. Two towers, which flank the magnificent facade, rise for nearly two hundred and fifty feet, and are the work of Jacquemin de Commercy in the fifteenth century. Adjoining the right aisles are the very beautiful Gothic cloisters of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. They form a rectangular enclosure, 225 feet by 165 feet, and are made up of twenty-four sections of four arches, each with clustered columns.
A fine sculptured altarpiece, ” The Adoration of the Shepherds,” is in the Chapelle de la Creche, entered from the cloister.
The present Hotel-de-Ville was formerly the bishop’s palace.