Cathédrale Saint-Étienne Cathedral of St. Stephen
Cioffi, Paul L., 1928-2004
Situated between Paris and Dijon in the Burgundy region of France, Auxerre traces its history to Gallo-Roman times when, in the 1st century, C. E., it became the point where the Via Agrippa crossed the Yonne River, creating a link from the Mediterranean basin to the North Sea. By the 3rd C. the Christian community at Auxerre had its own bishop. When Guillaume of Seignelay (bishop of Auxerre 1207-1220) initiated the construction of Saint-Étienne's present Gothic structure ca. 1215, it became the fifth church to occupy the site. The large crypt of its Romanesque predecessor, built between 1023 and 1030 when Hugh of Chalon was bishop, remains intact and features frescoes (late 11th C.) with images inspired by the Book of Revelation. Guillaume's successor, Henri de Villeneuve, completed the chevet ca. 1234. For a time thereafter, bishops focused expenditures on embellishing the liturgical rites celebrated in the church rather than completing the structure. Ca. 1260 / 1270, Jean de Chalon-Rochefort, the new Count of Auxerre, financed work on the Cathedral's western end. The western facade--though detached from the Romanesque church because it marked an enlargement of the earlier footprint--was established to a height several courses above the cornice at this time. (Note the slight change in stone color, particularly on the southern end of the facade.) Some of the surviving sculptures around the portals date from this period. However, many of the statutes for the elaborately decorated western portals of the church date from the 14th C. when construction of the nave progressed and it was joined to the facade. Unfortunately, most of these magnificent facade sculptures would be destroyed in 1569 when the Huguenots captured Auxerre during the Wars of Religion. Around 1500, during the episcopate of Jean Baillet, building of the western facade re-commenced. By 1534 it was essentially complete, exhibiting a skillful integration of Rayonnant Gothic vocabularies characterizing what had already been built, contemporary ogee-based vocabulary and new classicizing elements fresh on the horizon from Italy. The cupola at the top of north tower stairway was finished in 1543; the south tower was never finished beyond the point needed to buttress the nave walls. Extensive repairs were executed in the late 16th century under the direction of Bishop Jacques Amyot (r. 1570-1593). ca. August 1981
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