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does, that he was an Englishman, may admit of some doubt. He was buried
here; and De Bourgueville has preserved his epitaph, which recounts
among his other merits, that


"Et par luy, et par sa devise
Fut la tour en sa voye mise
D'estre faicte si noblement." -


But the name of the architect who was employed is unrecorded. - The rest
of the church was erected at different periods: the northern aisle in
1410; the opposite one some time afterwards; and the eastern extremity,
with the vaulted roof of the choir and aisles, in 1021. - With this
knowledge, it is not difficult to account for the diversity of styles
that prevails in the building. - The western front contains much good
tracery, and well disposed, apparently as old as the tower. - The
exterior of the east end, with its side-chapels, is rather Italian than
gothic. - The interior is of a purer style: the five arches forming the
apsis are perhaps amongst the finest specimens of the luxuriant French
gothic: roses are introduced with great effect amongst the tracery and
friezes, with which the walls are covered. The decorations of the
chapels round the choir, although they display a tendency towards
Italian architecture, are of the most elaborate arabesque. The niches
are formed by escalop shells, swelling cylinders of foliage, and
scrolls: some of the pendants from the roofs are of wonderfully varied
and beautiful workmanship. - The nave has nothing remarkable, saving the
capital of one of the side pillars. Its sculptures, with the exception
of one mutilated group, have been drawn by Mr. Cotman. - The subjects are
strangely inappropriate, as the ornaments of a sacred edifice. All are
borrowed from romance. - Aristotle bridled and saddled by the mistress
of Alexander. Virgilius, or, as some say, Hippocrates, hanging in the
basket. Lancelot crossing the raging flood. - The fourth, which is not
shewn in the sketch, is much defaced, but seems to have been taken from
the _Chevalier et la Charette_. According to the usual fate of ancient
sculpture, the _marguilliers_ of the parish have so sadly encumbered it
with white-wash, that it is not easy to make out the details; and a
friend of mine was not quite certain whether the bearded figure riding
on the lion, was not a youthful Cupid. No other of the capitals has at
present any basso-relievo of this kind; but I suspect they have been
chopped off. The church suffered much from the Calvinists; and
afterwards, during the revolution, when most of the bas-reliefs of the
portal were destroyed.

[Illustration: Tower of St. John's Church, at Caen]

The neighboring church of St. John appears likewise to be the work of
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This building and St. Peter's
agree in general character: their towers are nearly the counterparts of
each other. But, in St. John's, the great tower is placed at the west
end of the edifice, the principal portal being beneath it. This is not
very usual in the Norman-gothic churches, though common in England. The
tower wants a spire; and, at present, it leans considerably out of the
perpendicular line, so that some apprehensions are entertained for its
safety. It was originally intended that the church should also be
surmounted by a central tower; and, as De Bourgueville says, the
beginning was made in his time; but it remains to the present day
incomplete, and has not been raised sufficiently high to enable us to
form a clear idea of the design of the architect, though enough remains
to shew that it would have been built in the Romanizing-gothic
style. - The inside is comparatively plain, excepting only the arches in
the lower open part of the tower. These are richly ornamented; and a
highly-wrought balustrade runs round the triforium, uniform in its
pattern in the nave and choir, but varying in the transepts. - In the
other ecclesiastical buildings at Caen, we saw nothing to interest
us. - The chapel of St. Thomas l'Abattu, which, according to Huet, "had
existed from time immemorial," and which, to judge from Ducarel's
description and figure, must have been curious, has now entirely
disappeared.

In the suburb of Vaucelles, the church of St. Michael contains some
architectural features of great curiosity[75]. The circular-headed
arches in the short square tower, and in a small round turret that is
attached to it, are unquestionably early Norman, and are remarkable for
their proportions, being as long and as narrow as the lancet windows of
the following æra. It would not be equally safe to pronounce upon the
date of the stone-roofed pyramid which covers this tower. The north
porch is entered by a pointed arch, which, though much less ornamented,
approaches in style to the southern porch of St. Ouen, and, like that,
has its inner archivolt fringed with pendant trefoils. The wall above
the arch rises into a triangular gable, entirely covered with waving
tracery, the only instance of the kind which I have seen at Caen.

* * * * *

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 71: _Huet, Origines de Caen_, p. 12.]

[Footnote 72: Upon this subject, Huet has an extraordinary observation,
(_Origines de Caen_, p. 186.) "that, in the early times of Christianity,
it was customary for all churches to front the east or north, or some
intermediate point of the compass." - So learned and careful a writer
would scarcely have made such a remark without some plausible grounds;
but I am at a loss where to find them. Bingham, in his _Origines
Eccleslasticæ_, I. p. 288, says, "that churches were so placed, that
the front, or chief entrances, were towards the west, and the sanctuary
or altar placed towards the east;" and though he adduces instances of a
different position, as in the church of Antioch, which faced the east,
and that of St. Patrick, at Sabul, near Down in Ulster, which stood from
north to south, he cites them only as deviations from an established
practice.]

[Footnote 73: _Cotman's Architectural Antiquities of Normandy_, t. 20.]

[Footnote 74: _Antiquities of Ireland_, p. 151.]

[Footnote 75: See _Cotman's Architectural Antiquities of Normandy_, t.
18, 19.]




LETTER XXV.

ROYAL ABBEYS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND ST. STEPHEN - FUNERAL OF THE
CONQUEROR, EXHUMATION OF HIS REMAINS, AND DESTRUCTION OF HIS MONUMENT.


(_Caen, August_, 1818.)

The two royal abbeys of Caen have fortunately escaped the storms of the
revolution. These buildings are still standing, an ornament to the town,
and an honor to the sovereign who caused them to be erected, as well as
to the artist who planned, and to the age which produced them. As models
of architecture they are the same land-marks to the history of the art
in Lower Normandy, as the church of St. Georges is in the upper division
of the province. Their dates are equally authenticated; and the
characteristic features in each are equally perfect.

Both these noble edifices rose at the same time, and from the same
motive. William the Conqueror, by his marriage with Matilda, daughter of
Baldwin, Earl of Flanders, had contracted an alliance proscribed by the
degrees of consanguinity. The clergy inveighed against the union; and
they were supported in their complaints by Lanfranc, then resident at
Bec, whose remonstrances were so uncourtly and strenuous, that the duke
banished him from the province. It chanced that the churchman, while in
the act of obedience to this command, met the sovereign. Their interview
began with recriminations: it ended with reconciliation; and Lanfranc
finally engaged to undertake a mission to the supreme Pontiff, who,
considering the turbulent disposition of the Normans, and that a better
end was likely to be answered by peaceable than by hostile measures,
consented to grant the necessary dispensation. At the same time, by way
of penance, he issued an injunction that the royal pair should erect two
monasteries, the one for monks, the other for nuns. And in obedience to
this command, William founded the abbey of St. Stephen, and Matilda, the
abbey of the Holy Trinity; or, as they are usually called at Caen,
_l'abbaye aux hommes_, and _l'abbaye aux dames_.

The approach to the monastery of the Trinity is through a spacious
gate-tower, part of the original structure. Over the rent and shapeless
door-way are three semi-circular arches, upon the capitals of which is
distinctly observable the cable-moulding, and along the top of the tower
runs a line of the same toothed ornament, remarked by Ducarel at
Bourg-Achard, and stated by him to have been considered peculiar to
Saxon architecture[76]. The park that formerly environed the abbey
retains its character, though abandoned to utter neglect. It is of great
extent, and is well wooded. The monastic buildings, which are, as usual,
modern, are mostly perfect. - A ruined wall nearly in front of the
church, with a chimney-piece, perhaps of Norman workmanship, belonged to
the old structure. Such part of the chimney wall as was exposed to the
flame is built of large tiles, placed diagonally. All other vestiges of
the ancient apartments have been removed.

The noble church[77] is now used as a work-house for the department. At
the revolution it became national property, and it remained
unappropriated, till, upon the institution of the Legion of Honor,
Napoléon applied it to some purpose connected with that body, by whom it
was lately ceded for it present object. But, if common report may be
credited, it is likely soon to revert to its original destination. The
restoration may be easily effected, as the building has sustained but
little injury. A floor has been thrown across the nave and transept,
dividing them into two stories; but in other respects they are
unaltered, and divine service is still performed in the choir.

A finer specimen of the solid grandeur of Norman architecture is
scarcely to be found any where than in the west front of this church.
The corresponding part of the rival abbey of St. Stephen is poor when
compared to it; and Jumieges and St. Georges equally fail in the
comparison. In all of these, there is some architectural anomaly: in the
Trinity none, excepting, indeed, the balustrade at the top of the
towers; and this is so obviously an addition of modern times, that no
one can be misled by it. This balustrade was erected towards the
beginning of the seventeenth century, when the oval apertures and
scrolls seen in Ducarel's print were introduced. Anciently the towers
were ornamented with very lofty spires. According to some accounts,
these were demolished, because they served as land-marks to the English
cruizers, being seen far out at sea; but other accounts state, that the
spires were pulled down by Charles, King of Navarre, who was at war with
his namesake, Charles Vth, then Dauphin and Regent. The abbey at that
time bore the two-fold character of nunnery and fortress. - Strangely
inconsistent as this union may appear, the fact is undoubted. Even now a
portion of the fosses remains; and the gate-way indicates an approach
to a fortified place. Ancient charters likewise expressly recognize the
building in both capacities: they endow the abbey for the service of
God; and they enjoin the inhabitants of the adjacent parishes to keep
the fortifications in repair against any assaults of men. Nay, letters
patent, granted by Charles Vth, which fix the salary of the captain of
the _Fort of the Trinity, at Caen_, at one hundred francs per annum, are
yet extant.

I shall attempt no description of the west front of this monastery, few
continental buildings being better known in England. The whole remains
as it was in the time of Ducarel, except that the arches of entrance are
blocked up, and modern windows have been inserted in the door-ways. - The
north side of the church is quite concealed by the cloisters and
conventual buildings. The southern aisle has been plastered and patched,
and converted into a range of work-shops, so that its original elevation
is wholly obliterated. But the nave, which rises above, is untouched by
innovation. The clerestory range is filled by a row of semi-circular
headed windows, separated by intervening flat buttresses, which reach to
the cornice. Each buttress is edged with two slender cylindrical
pilasters; and each window flanked by two smaller arches, whose surfaces
are covered with chequer-work. The arch of every window has a key-stone,
formed by a grotesque head. - Above the whole is a corbel-table that
displays monsters of all kinds, in the form of beasts, and men scarcely
less monstrous. - The semi-circular east end is divided in its elevation
into three compartments. The lower contains a row of small blank arches:
in each of the other two is a window, of a size unusually large for a
Norman building, but still without mullions or tracery; its sides
ornamented with columns, and its top encircled with a broad band of
various mouldings. The windows are separated by cylindrical pillars,
instead of buttresses. - In the upper part of the low central tower are
some pointed arches, the only deviations of style that are to be found
in the building. To the extremity of the southern transept has been
attached a Grecian portico, which masks the ancient portal. Above is a
row of round arches, some of which are pierced into windows.

Of the effect of the nave and transept within, it is difficult now to
obtain a correct idea, the floor intervening to obstruct a general
view. - High arches, encircled with the embattled moulding below; above
these, a wide billeted string-course, forming a basis for a row of
smaller arches, without side-pillars or decoration of any kind; then
another string-course of different and richer patterns; and over this,
the triforium, consisting also of a row of small arches, supported by
thick pillars; - such is the elevation of the sides of the nave; and the
same system is continued with but small variation in the transepts. But,
notwithstanding the general uniformity of the whole, no two compartments
are precisely alike; and the capitals are infinitely varied. It is
singular to see such a playfulness of ornament in a building, whose
architect appears, at first view, to have contemplated only grandeur and
solidity. - The four arches which support the central tower are on a
magnificent scale. The archivolts are encircled by two rows of lozenged
squares, indented in the stone. The rams, or rams' heads, upon the
capitals of these piers, are peculiar. The eastern arch rises higher
than the rest, and is obtusely pointed; yet it seems to be of the same
date with its circular companions. - So exquisite, however, is the
quality of the Caen stone, that no opinion drawn from the appearance of
the material, ought to be hazarded with confidence. Seven centuries have
elapsed since this church was erected, and there is yet no difference to
be discovered in the color of the stone, or the sharpness of the work;
the whole is as clean and sharp as if it were but yesterday fresh from
the chisel. The interior of the choir has not been divided by the
flooring; and the eastern extremity, which remains perfect, shews the
original design. It consists of large arches, disposed in a double tier,
so as to correspond with the windows of the apsis, and placed at a short
distance from the wall; but without any Lady-Chapel beyond. The pillars
that support these arches are well proportioned: the sculptures on their
capitals are scarcely less grotesque than those at St. Georges; but,
barbarous as they are, the corners of almost every capital are finished
with imitations, more or less obvious, of the classical Ionic
volute. - Among the sculptures is a head resting upon two lions, which
has been fancied to be a representation of the Conqueror himself; whilst
a faded painting of a female, attired as a nun, on the north side of the
altar, is also commonly entitled a portrait of the foundress. - Were any
plausible reason alleged for regarding the picture as intended to bear
even an imaginary resemblance to Matilda, I would have sent you a copy
of it; but there appear no grounds to consider it as
authentic. - Willing, however, to contribute a mark of respect to a
female, styled by William of Malmesbury, "fæminam prudentiæ speculum,
pudoris culmen," and, by way of a companion to the rough sketch of her
illustrious consort, in the initial letter in the library at Rouen, I
add the fac-simile of a seal, which, by the kindness of a friend has
fallen into my hands. It has been engraved before, but only for private
distribution; and, if a suspicion should cross your mind, that it may
have belonged to the Empress Maud, or to Matilda, wife to Stephen, I can
only bespeak your thanks to me, for furnishing you with a likeness of
any one of these ladies.

[Illustration: Fac-simile of seal]

Matilda was interred in the middle of this choir; and, according to
Ordericus Vitalis, a monument of exquisite workmanship, richly
ornamented with gold and precious stones, and bearing a long inscription
in letters of gold, was raised to her memory. Her effigy was afterwards
added to the monument; the whole of which was destroyed in 1652, by the
Calvinists, who tore open the Queen's coffin, and dispersed her remains.
After a lapse of an hundred and forty years, the royal bones were again
collected, and deposited in this church. At the same time, the splendid
monument was replaced by a plain altar-tomb, which existed till the
revolution, when all was once more swept away. The marble slab,
inscribed with the original epitaph, alone remained entire, and was
carried to the abbey church of St. Stephen's, where it still forms a
part of the pavement in a chapel. The letters are finely sculptured and
perfectly sharp. However, it is not likely to continue there long; for
Count de Montlivault, the prefect of the department, has already caused
a search to be made for Matilda's remains, and he intends to erect a
third monument to her memory. The excavations for this purpose have
hitherto been unsuccessful: the Count met with many monumental stones,
and many coffins of various kinds, but none that could be mistaken for
the desired object; for one of the inscriptions on the late monument
expressly states, that the Queen's bones had been wrapped in a linen
cloth, and enclosed in a leaden box.

The inquiry, however, will not be discontinued[78]: there are still
hopes of success, especially in the crypt, which corresponds in its
architecture with the church above. It is filled with columns placed in
four ranges, each standing only four feet from the other, all of elegant
proportions, with diversified capitals, as those in the choir. - Round
it runs a stone bench, as in the subterraneous chapel in St. Gervais, at
Rouen.

Founded by a queen, the abbey of the Trinity preserved at all times a
constitution thoroughly aristocratical. No individual, except of noble
birth, was allowed to take the veil here, or could be received into the
community. You will see in the series of the abbesses the names of
Bourbon, Valois, Albret, Montmorenci, and others of the most illustrious
families in France. Cecily, the Conqueror's eldest daughter, stands at
the head of the list. According to the _Gallia Christiana_, she was
devoted by her parents to this holy office, upon the very day of the
dedication of the convent, in July 1066.

The black marble slab which covered her remains, was lately discovered
in the chapter-house. A crozier is sculptured upon it. It is delineated
in a very curious volume now in the possession of the Abbé de la Rue,
which contains drawings of all the tombs and inscriptions that formerly
existed in the abbey.

The annual income of the monastery of the Trinity is stated by Gough, in
his _Alien Priories_, at thirty thousand livres, and that of the
monastery of St. Stephen, at sixty thousand; but Ducarel estimates the
revenue of the former at seventy thousand, and of the latter at two
hundred thousand; and I should not doubt but that the larger sums are
nearest the truth; indeed, the grants and charters still in existence,
or noticed by historians, would rather lead to the supposition that the
revenues must have been even greater. Parsimony in the endowment of
religious buildings, was not a prevailing vice in the eleventh and
twelfth centuries. Least of all was it likely that it should be
practised in the case of establishments, thus founded in expiation of
the transgressions of wealthy and powerful sinners. Page after page, in
the charters, is filled with the list of those, who, with


"Lands and livings, many a rood,
Had gifted the shrine for their soul's repose."


The privileges and immunities enjoyed by these abbeys were very
extensive. Both of them were from their origin exempted by Pope
Alexander IInd, with the consent of Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, from all
episcopal jurisdiction; and both had full power, as well spiritual as
ecclesiastical, over the members of their own communities, and over the
parishes dependent upon them; with no other appeal than to the
archbishop of Rouen, or to the Pope. Express permission was likewise
given to the abbot of St. Stephen's, by virtue of a bull from Pope
Clement VIIth, to wear a gold mitre studded with precious stones, and a
ring and sandals, and other episcopal ornaments.

Many of the monuments and deeds of the greater abbey are now in the
prefecture of the department. The original chartulary or register was
saved by the Abbé de la Rue, and is at this time preserved in his
valuable collection. The charters of the Trinity were hid, during the
revolution, by the nuns, who secreted them beneath the tiling of a barn.
They were discovered there not long since; but damp and vermin had
rendered them wholly illegible.

Lanfranc, whose services at Rome well deserved every distinction that
his sovereign could bestow, was the first abbot of St. Stephen's. Upon
his translation to the see of Canterbury, he was succeeded by William,
who was likewise subsequently honored with an archiepiscopal mitre. The
third abbot, Gislebert, was bishop of Evreux; and, though the series was
not continued through an uninterrupted line of equal dignity, the office
of abbot of this convent was seldom conferred, except upon an individual
of exalted birth. Eight cardinals, two of them of the noble houses of
Medici and Farnese, and three others, still more illustrious, the
cardinals Richelieu, Mazarine, and Fleury, are included in the list,
though in later times the abbacy was held _in commendam_ by these
powerful prelates, whilst all the internal management of the house
devolved upon a prior. Amongst the abbots will also be found Hugh de
Coilly, grandson of King Stephen, Anthony of Bourbon, a natural son of
Henry IVth of France, and Charles of Orléans, who was likewise of royal
extraction. - St. Stephen was selected as the patron of the abbey, in
consequence of the founder having bestowed upon it the head of the
protomartyr, together with one of his arms, and a phial of his blood,
and the stone with which he was killed.

[Illustration: Monastery of St. Stephen, at Caen]

The monastic buildings now serve for what, in the language of
revolutionary and imperial France, was called a _Lycée_, but which has
since assumed the less heathen appellation of a college. They constitute
a fine edifice, and, seen from a short distance, in conjunction with the
east end of the church, they form a grand _tout-ensemble_. The abbey
church, from this point of view, has somewhat of an oriental character:
the wide sweep of the semi-circular apsis, and the slender turrets and
pyramids that rise from every part of the building, recal the idea of
a Mahometan mosque. But the west end is still more striking than the
east; and if, in the interior of the church of the Trinity, we had
occasion to admire the beautiful quality of the Caen stone, our
admiration of it was more forcibly excited here: notwithstanding the
continual exposure to wind and weather, no part appears corroded, or
discolored, or injured. A character of magnificence, arising in a great
measure from the grand scale upon which it is built, pervades this
front. But, to be regarded with advantage, it must be viewed as a whole:
the parts, taken separately, are unequal and ill assorted. The
simplicity of the main division approaches to meanness. Its three
door-ways and double tier of windows appear disproportionally small,
when contrasted with the expanse of blank wall; and their returns are
remarkably shallow. The windows have no mouldings whatever, and the
pillars and archivolts of the doors are very meagre. The front consists
of three compartments, separated by flat buttresses; the lateral


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Online LibraryDawson TurnerAccount of a Tour in Normandy, Volume 2 → online text (page 13 of 21)