The soi-disant provincial metropolis of Mr. James’ appreciative favour, the capital of old Touraine, is possessed of great and many charms for the seeker after new things. He may be passionately fond of churches; if so, the trinity here to be seen, and the history of their founders and prelates, and the important part which they played in church affairs, will edify him greatly. If romance fills his or her mind, there is no more convenient centre than Tours from which to ” do ” the chateaux of the Loire. If it be French history, or the study of modern economic or commercial conditions, the past activities and present prosperity of the city will give much food for thought. If to literature one’s mind turns, there is the association with Balzac’s birth in the Rue Royale, and his delightful picturings of the city’s environment in the ” Cure de Tours,” ” Le Lys dans la Vallee,” and ” La Grenadiere.” Says Balzac of the habitant: ” . . . He is a listless and unobliging individual.” But the sojourner for a day will probably not notice this, and, if he should, must simply make allowance, and think with Henry James of the other memories of ” this land of Rabelais, Descartes, and Balzac; of good dinners, good company, and good houses.” To link the city still closer with letters, the first printing-press in Touraine was set up here in 1496. Nicolas Jensen, famed as the foremost Venetian printer of his time, was born in the neighbourhood and was at one time ” Master of the Mint ” at Tours. Christopher Plantin, the head of the famous Antwerp family of printers, likewise was born in the near-by suburb of St. Avertin pres Tours.
Climatically, Touraine appears to linger between the rigours of the north and the mildness of the southland ; at least we are conscious of another atmosphere, made apparent by such evidences as palms and prunes growing in the open.
Tours, says her historian, has ever employed the pure French in her spoken and written word; ” patois and provincialisms have no place here.”
St. Martin of Tours erected a church here, in honour of St. Peter and Paul, as a sort of antidote to the many pagan temples which he had caused to be destroyed. His successors built several others round about the city, but they appear to have been all of small size until, in the fifth century, Perpetus, Bishop of Tours in the reign of Childeric, caused to be built a more splendid church to replace that which Briceius had erected over the tomb of St. Martin: This, in turn, was rebuilt by the celebrated Gregory of Tours, or so ordered by him; until finally in the seventh century the abbey church of St. Martin of Tours became a place of pilgrimage for all the Turones. To-day, nought remains of this great church but the two towers, which have been bisected by the running of a street throughout the old nave of the church; and thus they stand as silent sentinels of the means through which Tours arose to its ecclesiastical dignity. The Tour St. Martin or ” de 1′Horloge ” is of the twelfth century, and the other, called the Tour de Charlemagne, being the burial-place of his wife Luitgarde, is, in its lower portions, of the eleventh century.
The Cathedral of St. Gatien, which should be greatly endeared to the English people, was commenced by Henry II. in 1170, the choir being the earliest portion. The transepts followed in the next century, and the fa~ade as late as the fifteenth, or the beginning of the sixteenth, century. Of manifestly Renaissance tendency, this fa~ade for sheer charm and picturesqueness must rank with the best, with the qualifying statement added that it offends against many consistent artistic and architectural principles. It is certainly an effective type, although perhaps not warranting the statement of a certain monarch, whose art training may to some degree have been wanting, that it was a ” jewel in a gemmed setting.” An exceedingly picturesque and attractive pair of towers rise, through no less than three different styles, to the inverted egg-cups, which in a purer example might perhaps prove less pleasing, but which in the present case seem at least to be imbued with something of the Oriental or Mediterranean influence, not yet fallen before the actual decadence. Another peculiarity of this charmingly toned west front is that the rose window is of a peculiar lozenge shape, ” neither square nor round,” as one authority puts it. This, of itself, is decidedly not a graceful arrangement; but the propor tions are ample and the glass is good, so its deficiencies may in a measure be said to be overbalanced by its merits; and, for that matter, as it is only seen in its minutia of detail from the inside, where the excellent coloured glass is seen at its best, it hardly detracts from the general fine effect of the exterior faqade. The western doorways are thoroughly Renaissance, both inside and out, while the portals themselves offer a livid suggestion as to what they might have been, were all the bare niches and blocks filled and mounted with worthy statues. The effect would have been an undeniable approach to the best matured Gothic, and would have enhanced greatly this already highly interesting faqade. The buttresses of the choir follow the accepted forms of grace and effectiveness, and, while not numerous or remarkable as to size, each springs to a supporting pier gracefully pinnacled and gargoyled. One instance of the functions of this valuable adjunct to the towering forms taken by most Gothic structures, is a buttress which springs, unsymmetrically enough, from the north transept. This rather ungainly limb flies out like the tentacles of an octopus, grasps a small building on the opposite side of a narrow roadway, and forms a support to the irregular construction of the north transept. This was perhaps necessary as a means of bracing the transept wall, which it might not have been possible to accomplish otherwise.
The interior presents the unusual feature of the omission of the organ case from over the western doorway, the organ being in this instance in the south transept, as at Le Mans. The wall space centered upon the nave proper is entirely given over to the lozenge-shaped ” rose,” which, in spite of its rather heavy framing and kaleidoscopic and patchworky glass, is withal effective beyond many more gracefully formed openings, where the glass is either too severely plain, or worked into a supposed design, which, by reason of its minute particles, is undecipherable. The design and arrangement of a series of lancets supporting the lozenge would be remarkable, were it in company with the best glass of the middle ages. It depicts an ” Adoration ” in which kings, saints, and bishops are modelled brilliantly, and with evidence of much good drawing, a detail often wanting in old, or, for that matter, modern glass.
The glass of the choir, on the other hand, is far better in arrangement, and shows deep, rich particles which are only at their best in the work of the early period here shown. In this glass are depicted the arms of St. Louis, Blanche of Castile, and of the City of Tours. The choir itself widens out from the crossing of the transept, causing that deviation between the piers of nave and choir which made necessary the ungainly flying buttress of the north wall.
The aisles of the nave are of no great width and are fringed with a series of chapels of which only one, that of the Sacred Heart, is in any way remarkable. The radiating chapels of the choir are more interesting, notably the lady-chapel, which contains old glass removed thither from the church of St. Julien, the subject of one of Turner’s rhapsodies in his ” Seine and Loire.”
The clerestory of the nave consists of plain glass only; and on the triforium alone, of exceedingly graceful arcaded columns, depends the beauty of the upper ranges.
The chief treasure of artistic value and moment is unquestionably the tomb of the children of Charles VIII. and Anne of Brittany, by whose early deaths the throne passed to the Valois branch of the Orleans family. This remarkable monument is of the early sixteenth century and, according to the report of the Commission des Monuments Historiques, is the work of Guillaume Regnault, a statement which is much more likely to be correct than the usual guide-book information, which in some instances credits it to Goujon, and in others to a local apprentice of his, named juste. On a Renaissance sarcophagus lie the two tiny effigies, in white marble, surrounded by guardian angels and other symbolical figures. The base bears escutcheons of the Dauphins of France, the arms and two inscriptions referring to the princes and their birth.