To the thorough student of English history, Troyes is perhaps first recalled as being the birthplace of the treaty “decreeing for ever a common sovereign for England and France,” a treaty which, it is minded, ” stood no while.” Again, some dubious antiquary has put it forward as the home of that variety of weights ” which are not avoirdupois.”
The Counts of Champagne had, in the once well-walled city, both a castle and a palace. Olden-time houses, good Gothic woodwork and Renaissance stonework, are here in abundance; also, according to the authority of Fergusson, a well-nigh perfect Gothic church in St. Urbain; likewise a great cathedral,rather ugly as to its general outline. All these are possessed by Troyes, and today the reminders and remains of each and all are exceedingly vivid and substantial.
Certain cathedrals of France show plainly the different phases and developments of the art of building through which they have passed; others indicate little, if any, deviation from a certain accepted style. St. Pierre de Troyes is of the first category. Here is Gothic in all its variations. Its environment, too, is characteristic of the many varying moods through which its constituency has passed. A truly mediaeval city in the picturesqueness of its older portions, Troyes is famed alike in affairs of Church and State. The dimensions of the Cathedral at Troyes, which approach those of the grand group, and the general majesty of its interior only further this opinion.
The main body covers the none too frequent arrangement of five aisles, which, following through the transept, continue, with the double pair on each side, to likewise girdle the choir. The splendour of immensity is further enhanced by its large windows, including two rose openings set with old glass, and the general richness of its sculptured decorations. The abside of the choir is ranked among the best Gothic works of the time.
The choir, begun in 1206, is composed of thirteen arcades, symbolical of Christ and the twelve apostles, from the chief of whom the cathedral takes its name. The windows of the triforium are large and divided into four compartments. The general disposition of the choir, with its radiating chapels, is superb; and it is exactly this satisfying, though perhaps undefinable, quality that is ofttimes lacking in an originally well-planned work which fails to inspire one. The choir contains an iron grille of the thirteenth century, of very beautiful workmanship, and is surrounded by five hexagonally sided chapels.
The principal portion of the nave, erected in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, interrupted now and again by war and civil distractions, bears indelible impress of its continued centuries of growth.
The principal facade of the fifteenth century-accredited to one Martin Chambige and erected just after the nave took form is of the richness of Gothic only just previous to its decline. There are three portals, which are bare of sculptured figures, as indeed is the whole west front. In arrangement, it resembles the frontispieces of certain of the grand cathedrals, and, though lacking their sculptured ornateness, is thoroughly satisfying as a decorative frontage. Had it been executed fifty years later, it would be hard to imagine to what depths its lines might not have fallen. As it is, the upper ranges of the tower suggest the thought. The windows of the aisle and of the clerestory of the nave, when viewed from the exterior, are grandly traceried and gracefully coupled by a series of light, firm buttresses, which rise, only from the gables of the lower set, over the low-lying roof to the spring of the arch of the upper range. St. Pierre de Troyes suggests, in a mild way, the “sheer glass walls” so frequently referred to by adulous French critics when chanting the praises of the highly developed lightness of their indigenous style. This is further accentuated when one notes the glazed triforium, a decorative feature reminiscent of that at Seez, Nevers, Tours, and St. Ouen at Rouen.
Troyes is one of those prominent cathedral cities of Catholic France whereof the churchman deplores the fact that its men are not of the churchgoing class, and that its congregations are mostly of the fair sex. Be this as it may, except in Brittany, where the whole population appears unusually devout, the stricture is probably true in a great measure of all of the north of France; and, be it here said, recent political edicts will doubtless not tend to increase the propaganda of piety.
The north gable, with its portal and rose window, is of the fifteenth century, and, with the ” lustrous rose ” of the south transept, forms a pair of brilliant jewels which are hardly excelled elsewhere, not even by the encircled splendour of the forty-foot openings at Reims and Amiens, the equally extensive one of the north transept at Rouen, or, most splendid of all, the galaxy at Chartres. These marvels of French ingenuity and invention are nowhere more splendidly proportioned or embellished than at Troyes, and are equally attractive viewed from either within or without.
The chief ” tresor ” consists of a series of wonderful mediaeval enamels.