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The rivalry with Notre Dame-en-Vaux

Notre Dame-en-Vaux collegiate church

view from the roof of Saint Etienne Cathedral

The Cathedral's history was greatly influenced by a rivalry between its canons and those of the collegiate church Notre Dame-en-Vaux. The canons of Notre Dame were under the jurisdiction of the Cathedral chapter, but were constantly trying to liberate themselves from this authority.

To have the most beautiful church with the highest towers was a motivating factor in the construction campaigns of both edifices.

Notre Dame-en-Vaux was constructed around 1100, and possessed two transept towers. The Cathedral was rebuilt beginning in 1115, on an identical plan. Notre Dame was rebuilt, in its turn, from 1150 or so, still using the same plan, but with the addition of two towers on its western façade, and extensive sculpted decoration on the south arm façade, the lateral portal and the cloister galleries.

These new, higher, towers inspired the Cathedral canons, around 1165, to add a level to their tower, and, between 1175 and 1185, to create a new Gothic nave and to build two towers on the western façade.

This spurred the modernization of Notre Dame, and an ambulatory was added in 1215. As early as 1230, reconstruction was begun on the Cathedral to make it higher and more luminous, but the work took longer than anticipated.

Lacking money, the canons of Notre Dame-en-Vaux settled for erecting spires on the existing towers, which brought their total height to 60 meters.

It wasn't until 1520 that the Cathedral canons were able to afford their own spire, but when it was constructed it was more richly decorated, and culminated at 80 meters.

The Notre Dame canons gave up. The Cathedral's new spire assured its supremacy, but was also the cause of catastrophic damage in the fire of 1668.


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