St. Lazare D’Autun

This ancient episcopal city has ever been devoted to the cause of Christianity. “Nowhere,” says a French historian, “has the Church enjoyed more repute than here.” The Dukes of Burgundy, its bishops and people alike, joined in a fervour of labour and zeal to assure its permanence and progress. In addition, the Gallo-Roman remains point to a former city of proud attainments. The fine Roman walls, beautifully jointed, sans cement, are distinctly traceable for a circuit of perhaps three miles around the city. Other interesting remains are two fine gateways, commonly referred to as triumphal arches, which they probably were not, the Porte d’Arroux and the Porte St. Andre; the ruins of an ampitheatre; and a tower assigned to a former temple of Minerva. All these, and more, are found inside the old walls; while, without, are remains of an aqueduct, of a tower dedicated to Janus, and a Roman bridge crossing the river Torenai. It may be interesting for an Englishman to recall that the Bishop of Autun, who often presided over the National Assembly, pleaded in vain with George III. for the adoption, in England, of the French metric system.

During the destruction of a former building, St. Nazaire, which at one time performed the functions of a cathedral, the bishops held their offices in the chapel of the chateau of the Dukes of Burgundy; but, upon the removal of the residence of the house of Burgundy to Dijon, transferred their services to the present edifice, which had by that time been completed.

The Cathedral of St. Lazare is a charmingly graceful, though not great, structure, mainly of the style ” ogivale premier,” its early Lombard work of the nave and west front being of the foundation of Robert I., Duke of Burgundy. This vast western portal is encased in a great projective porch, a feature indigenous apparently to Burgundy, and commonly referred to as the ” Burgundian narthex.” Following come the chapels and spires, of exceeding grace and beauty, of the third ogivale style.

The interior enrichments, like the western doorway, with its Romanesque sculptures, take rank with the best in Burgundy. The delicately carved rood-loft, or jube, the small sculptures of the choir and nave, and the flamboyant chapels of the fifteenth to seventeenth century, challenge minute attention from those who would study decorative detail in extenso. The capitals of certain columns in the nave have fluted pilasters in imitation of the antique, but are most curiously ornamented with grotesque and fantastic human figures on a background of foliage.

The choir, of early pointed style, in its actual disposition and arrangement, may be included in that classification which comprehends some of its more important northern compeers, though, as a matter of fact, it lacks their magnitude. Indeed, the building is one of the smallest cathedrals in all France. The exterior offers an imposing and picturesque ensemble, with its crocketed spire rising some two hundred and fifty or more feet above the roof-tops of the ancient city.

Nearer inspection shows a certain incoherence of construction, particularly in reference to the evidences of garish crudities in the work done under Robert I. in 1031-76, in contrast to the later pointed work.

The doorway of the lateral southern wing is ornamented with a series of grossly exaggerated columns, in imitation of the antique, with the addition of an apse, which contrastingly shows work of a late flamboyant order.

The spire itself is the masterwork of the entire structure, and, unlike those which surmount many another church, appears not to have suffered the dangers of fire. As a fifteenth-century work, it merits special mention. Rising abruptly from a heavy square base, the pyramid is very acute, and is ornamented at the angles with foliaged crockets, basely called stone cauliflowers by unimaginative persons. One might say, with the gentle Abbe Bourasse, that the ” ornamentation breaks into sky and cloud with an exceedingly agreeable effect, far beyond that of a straight line.” The inconsistency lies only in the juxtaposition of the two western transition towers, which have hardly enough of the Gothic in them to merit the name.

The lower windows of the nave are of good flamboyant style, with a sort of Romanesque triforium, and a simple round-headed win dow in each bay of the clerestory, which is the more poor in treatment and effect in that it holds no notable glass. There are none of those distinctly northern accessories, the great rose windows, and the whole reeks of distinctly a milder atmosphere. There is a luxuriance of decoration in the many chapels of different epochs.

The exterior, in general, is of excessive simplicity; but, if it is not to be placed among those cathedrals and churches accredited the most notable and most beautiful, it will, at least, take rank as one of the most ancient to be seen today, and has the further benefit of a glorious environment and association with the past.