The one-time Cathedral of St. Samson, at Dol, is, says an unusually expressive Frenchman, “a grand, noble, and severe church, now widowed of its bishops. Its aspect is desolate and abandoned, as if it were but a ruin en face sur la grande place, of itself, but a mere desert of scrub.” This is certainly a vivid and forceful description of even a wholly unpre possessing shrine. This St. Samson is not, and due allowance should be made for verbal modelling which, in many cases, is but the mere expression of a mood pro tempo. There is, however, somewhat of truth in the descrip tion. About the granite walls there is a grimness and gauntness of decay; of changed plans and projects; of devastation; of restoration; and, finally, of what is, apparently, submission to the inevitableness of time.
The enormous northwesterly tower is stopped suddenly, with the daylight creeping through its very framework. Its facade is certainly bare of ornament, and gives a thorough illustration of paucity of design as well as of detail. There is, indeed, nothing in the west facade to compel admiration, and yet there is a fascination about it that to some will be irresistible.
A sixteenth-century porch, of suggested Burgundian style, forms the main entrance to the church, and is situated midway along the south side. Almost directly opposite, on the north, is the curiously contrasting feature of a crenelated battlement, a reminder of the time when the church was doubtless a temporal as well as a spiritual stronghold.
The interior, as the exterior, is gloomy and melancholy. One has only to contemplate the collection of ludicrously slender clustered columns of the nave, bound together with markedly visible iron strands, to realize the real weakness of the means by which the fabric has been kept alive.
The nave itself is of true proportions, and, regardless of the severity of its lines, and the ludicrous pillars, is undeniably fine in effect.
A curiously squared choir-end, but with the small apsed lady-chapel extending beyond, is another of those curious details which stand out in a way to be remarked in a French church. In this squared end, and above the arch made by the pillars of the choir aisle, is a large pointed window filled with ancient glass which must have been inserted soon after the church was reconstructed after the fire in the twelfth century.
The general effect of the nave and aisles is one of extreme narrowness, which perhaps is not so much really the case when actual measurements are taken.
In general, the church is supposed by many to resemble the distinct type of Gothic as it is known across the Channel; and, admitting for the nonce that possibly many of the Brittany structures were the work of English builders, this church, in the absence of any records as to who were its architects, may well be counted as of that number.
The stalls of the choir are of delicately carved wood, before which is placed a monumental bishop’s throne, with elaborate armorial embellishments. A Renaissance tomb of the sixteenth century, by a pupil of Michael Colomb, now much injured in its sculptured details of angels and allegorical figures, is locally considered the “show-piece” of the church.