Silence in Nantes, France

After a long holiday, it’s an amusing pastime to sit down and make a ‘best of’ list. The categories are numerous but might include the best cathedral, the best small church, the best restaurant meal, rental accommodation, hotel, seascape, musical experience, road trip, small village, river, wine and so on. When it comes to churches, there are plenty of candidates. My award for best cathedral goes to Nantes Cathedral, the Cathedral of St. Peter and St Paul, in France.

The building commenced in 1434 and took 457 years to complete. It is built in the French Gothic style, with late additions in Gothic Flamboyant and late Gothic. There are no jarring classical Italianesque elements or afterthoughts. Like many French cathedrals – Chartres comes to mind – the soaring height and long narrow nave overwhelms the visitor: silence descends, with occasional echoes of shuffles and murmurs bruising the ambience. Shafts of celestial light expose incandescent dust mites, while thoughts, not necessarily religious but meditative and spiritual, ascend into space.

The Tomb of Francis 11, Duke of Brittany, is located within the cathedral. Sculpted from Carrara marble in 1507 by Michael Colombe, it is an extraordinary work in the Renaissance style and is considered a masterpiece of French sculpture. The recumbent figures of the deceased couple, Francis and Margaret, lie prostrate with hands raised in prayer, as their heads rest on pillows held up by three angels. Margaret’s feet rest on a greyhound, symbol of fidelity, while Francis’ feet are on a lion, representing strength. At the four corners stand statues each representing the four virtues, Courage, Justice, Temperance, and Prudence. Under these statues, huddled in small shell-shaped medallions, are penitent mourners draped in black.

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While the tomb is elaborate and detailed, the cathedral space is light, spare and uncluttered, making the contrast even more appealing. Time to light a candle.

My award, incidentally, for the best small church can be found here.

 

45 thoughts on “Silence in Nantes, France”

  1. Time to light a candle indeed. How the past can bring one into a world of unbelievable beauty and quiet peace . . . totally agree with you about Chartres and sadly have not been to Nantes . . . and to think that people in the bygone ages had the patience to wait nearly 500 years to pray in that edifice . . .

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think it was built in stages, so the faithful had a chance to be overawed into prayer. I was really surprised by Nantes- which just happened to be a small hop on a plane from Berlin and was the beginning of our French holiday. Not very touristy but quite a charming place, wouldn’t mind exploring it further.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Please continue to spoil us with your images, evocative text and the beholden emotions it conjures. The exquisite workmanship and labour that went in to these chunks of marble and stone appear as if just arrived from the artisans’ studios. And I’m finding it hard to even make a bed!

    Liked by 5 people

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