Soissons, Cathédrale Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais


    Soissons, Roman Noviodum, was an important Merovingian capital, and the city was dotted with well-endowed ecclesiastical institutions. The cathedral complex was placed in the south-west corner of the cité. Of the earliest churches that formed the cathedral we know nothing. Bishop Nivelon de Quierzy (1176-1207) presided over the start of construction of a new church: his gift of land is associated with the construction of the south transept arm. The bishop was close with King Philip Augustus and played a key role in the Fourth Crusade. Work on the cathedral continued directly into the choir, entered by the clergy in 1212. Soissons Cathedral was very badly damaged in the bombardments of World War One (especially the upper nave and south west tower). Restoration work, directed by Emile Brunet, was complete by 1937.


    Begun ca. 1170


    An aisled basilica intersected by an unusual transept that is rounded in the south with the a flat north arm. The chevet is a five-segment hemicycle with shallow chapels unified with the ambulatory through the use of octopartite vaults. The chevet is flanked by deep culées or buttress uprights that project into the interior, forming pockets of space. The western frontispiece, projecting slightly beyond the nave, is a twin tower harmonious arrangement like that at the Cathedral at Reims.


    The south transept has a four-story elevation (arcade, gallery, trifoum and clerestory) and delicated articulation including slender columns in the entrance to the chapel resembling S-Remi of Reims. As work progressed into the body of the church the height was sharply increased and a three-story elevation was introduced. The arcade is supported with drum columns with a single colonnette applied to the front, blind triforium, tall clerestory with double flyers born by the powerful culeés.


    Oldest is the south transept 1170s-80s with embodies an galleried elevation with slender forms of articulation and exquisite decoration. Opening to the east of the south transept (a chapel) with double column in the mouth. The choir belongs to the years around 1200; work then progressed into the nave, western frontispiece in the first half of the 13th century; work on the north transept continued into the 14th century.


    Older scholarship tended to treat Soissons Cathedral as a derivative of Chartres Cathedral in the category of ?High Gothic.? More recently scholars have given chronological precedence to Soissons whose characteristics can be located in other churches in the region. The social mechanisms for such sharing of forms were, firstly, a network of tightly interlocking relationships between the clergy and the great seigneurial families of the region, and, second, the increasingly powerful professional organization of the masons who applied highly rationalized methods (mass production) to stone cutting.

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    -----, "The Gothic Architectural Engravings in the Cathedral of Soissons," Speculum, XLVII, 1972, 60.
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