As a city of commercial and strategic importance, no one will deny that Nantes is supreme in the Loire valley; that its relations with the affairs of Church and State are equally important, is a debatable point. True, the edict in favour of Protestant worship, fathered by Henry IV., was a momentous and significant event; but the revocation, and the subsequent massacres of the rascally Carrier, well-nigh wiped that out. The history of the city is one long record of warfare and bloodshed. Though holding the command of the Loire, the city has ever been more closely identified with Brittany. Here, in its frowning tenth-century castle, which fronts upon the river immediately in the foreground of the Cathedral of St. Pierre, with which it forms an unusual grouping of ecclesiastical and military architecture (M. H.), lived at one time or another, most of the Kings of France, from Charles VIII. downward. Here, too, Anne of Brittany was born, and here she married Charles VIII., thus uniting the Duchy of Brittany with the crown of France. Her subsequent marriage, in the chapel of the castle, with Louis XII., made for ever impossible the future independence of the city.
Following the edict came the Revolution; and, as if the preliminary horrors of massacres and atrocities, which spread to Orange in Vaucluse and to Arras in Picardy, were not of sufficient stringency, the ” Noyades,” or drownings, carried off the poor unfortunates, a boatload at a time, until it is estimated that perhaps nine thousand were thus cruelly murdered,-women, children, royalty, and the clergy alike. The wrath which spent itself seemed to know no rank. The guillotine, disease, and famine finished the work, so that the population of the city was, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, immeasurably inferior in numbers to what it had been a decade before. The details of these significant events are recounted quite fully enough by historians generally; but, in reality, it has little to do with the aspect of the city as it exists today, which, if not one of great splendour, partakes in no small measure of the attributes of a large metropolis, amply planned, beautifully laid out, and possessing, in addition to the characteristics of Brittany with which it has been so long identified, not a little of the influences and attributes of the south.
Immediately to the rear of the chateau is the Cathedral of St. Pierre, ancient as to its foundation, and grand as to its general effect, both inside and out, though its exterior is marred by its uncompleted towers. Lofty, but of heavy proportions, St. Pierre de Nantes would, at first sight, appear to offer much that goes to make a satisfying ecclesiastical building. As a matter of fact, it fails in many particulars to realize any ideal which we have come to admire. The western facade is more indebted to the rich and reasonably ornate portals for its undeniable impressiveness, than to the gable of towers, which have crumbled exceedingly from the effects of wind and weather, rather than of great age, since they date only from the fifteenth century.
The choir rests on the remains of an older church, hardly to be seen today in any appreciable evidence, in that restoration and rebuilding have been so extensively carried on.
The windows throughout are but weak decorative elements, and lack tracery and glass of a decorative quality, an obvious detraction in any great architectural work. The south transept shows indications of four successive periods of construction, and contains the best glass in the church; otherwise it is severely plain.
The interior is by no means as incoherent as the exterior, the height of the nave, one hundred and thirty feet, giving an otherwise unapproachable grandeur; though this admirable dimension is qualified to no small degree by a triforium of a luxurious florid growth, little in keeping with the other attributes of firmness and strength.
The chapels throughout are bare and uninteresting so far as their altars or decorative embellishments are concerned,-what they may be at some future time, if the Art Nouveau gets a foothold in church decoration, is fearful to contemplate. Paintings, none too common in French churches, are here somewhat in excess of customary numbers, though, as to quality or interest, in no church in France can they vie with those of the great churches of Italy or Flanders.
Like the neighbouring city of Tours, Nantes has in its cathedral, for its piece de resistance, a magnificent sepulchral monument, the tomb of Francois II., the last Duc de Bretagne, and Marguerite de Foix, his second wife, erected to their memory by their daughter Anne. This remarkable mausoleum was executed in 1 502-07, after designs of Jehan Perreal, by Michel Colomb and his pupils, Regnault and Jean de Chartres, with the assistance of Jerome de Fiesole, who contributed the ornamental portion. It fortunately escaped demolition at the Revolution, and was brought hither and placed in the south transept from the Eglise des Carmes in 1817. It is a wonderful exemplification of the very best quality of Renaissance. The main portion of the tomb is of marble, with black mouldings somewhat shattered in places, but not so much so as to affect the contour or design. The effigies lie recumbent upon a slab, their feet resting on a lion and a greyhound, upheld by a series of miniature figures of the twelve apostles in niches of red marble. At the corners are four nearly life-size figures, depicting justice, with sword and scales, said to be a portrait of the Duchess Anne; Power, strangling the dragon of Heresy; Prudence, a double face, showing also Wisdom, with mirror and compass; and Temperance, bearing a curb-bit and a lantern. A tablet at the head bears the figures of St. Louis and Charlemagne, and one at the foot, those of St. Francis of Assisi and Ste. Marguerite, the patrons of the duke and duchess.