Nantes' cathedral, officially the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Nantes, is one of the significant historical structures in the city. Right in the middle of the old town, just a few minute's walk from the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, nothing easier than just popping in.
The pinnacle of Gothic architecture
Over 400 years were required to complete one of the most iconic monuments of Nantes, which was completed in 1834. Be impressed by its snowy limestone façades (accentuated by recent restoration work, 2001-2008) guarded by two towers, vaults, stained glass windows, and even an unusual exterior ornated pulpit designed for outdoor sermons. Inside the church soars upwards, over 100 feet high in the nave, higher than Notre Dame de Paris, and the whiteness of the walls and the rich colors of the stained-glass windows make for a striking contrast. The reconstruction of the cathedral happened during a time when Nantes and Brittany (not yet united with France) were commercially prosperous, initiating such large-scale architectural projects on a wide scale, partly owing to the opportunist and skillful diplomatic policy of John V in a period of political turmoil and conflict with England.
Look for outstanding funerary monuments
Nantes Cathedral's most notable treasure is Michel Colomb's Renaissance tomb of François II, Duke of Brittany, and his second wife, Marguerite de Foix. In the right transept, you'll find the massive and very lifelike 16th century tomb, commissioned by their daughter Anne of Brittany (future Queen of France). For an interesting view from above, climb the stairs to the platform overlooking the tomb. Pay special attention to four interesting sentry-like statues of the cardinal virtues (Justice, Strength, Temperance, and the two-faced Prudence-- the artist even sculpted her reflection in the mirror she is holding). In the left transept, admire the details of the 19th century cenotaph, an ‘empty tomb', honoring Nantes-born General de Lamoricière, former Minister of War and leader of the Papal army. The tomb, designed by architect Louis Boitte and sculpted by Paul Dubois, features stone columns and bronze statues of the four essential virtues, Charity, Courage, Faith, and Wisdom.
Visit the Romanesque crypt
Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Nantes proudly stands on the site of a previous cathedral constructed in the 6th century, of which only remain the foundations and an even earlier 3rd century chapel built to house a nail from the cross of Saint Peter. Venture down below the choir to take a look at the crypt and the Treasures of the Cathedral. The oldest section, known as the High Crypt, dates to the 11th century and holds the precious artifacts and sacred items of the Cathedral Treasury. The Low Crypt dates to the 19th century and contains an exhibit on the history of the Cathedral. Enjoy a moment of peace afterwards in Jardin de la Psallette, the secret cathedral garden out back from where you can also access the cathedral crypt.
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