Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 11, 2002
In search of many saints
Cathedral Saint Gatien took three centuries to build
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Tours is the jewel of France's Loire Valley, ancient capital of Touraine and popular base for travellers seeking the areas fabulous chateaux. It's a city with a solid religious heritage, home to a number of saintly bishops and some elegant churches.
Spectacular Cathedrale St-Gatien, with its dizzying twin towers, dominates the old city. Here, on the site of Roman Caesarodunum, St. Lidoire built the first church, venue later for the consecration of famed St. Martin as bishop. Frankish and Romanesque churches followed, before the present cathedral was begun in the 13th century.
As early as 1862, the stunning edifice was designated an historical monument and is claimed to be "one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Christendom."
Namesake of the cathedral is St. Gatien (or Gratian or Gatian), one of six bishops who accompanied St. Denis (of Paris) to Rome where they were assigned as missionaries to Gaul in the third century. He brought Christianity to Tours, founded the diocese there and became its first bishop. His feast day is Nov. 18.
St. Lidoire succeeded Gatien as bishop and was followed in turn by the city's best-known saint.
Bishop Martin of Tours (feast day Nov. 11), a patron of France and of soldiers, is depicted in Church art in many places, including Cathedrale St-Gatien, as a soldier giving half his cloak to a destitute man. He later, in a vision, saw Christ wearing it. He is remembered in La Nouvelle Basilique St-Martin where his tomb in the crypt can be visited.
St. Brice, or Britius (feast day Nov. 13) succeeded Martin, had a tumultuous ministry as Tours bishop, but later led a humble, saintly life.
On Nov. 17, the life of St. Gregory of Tours is celebrated by the Church. As a sixth century bishop of the city, he was noted for his fervour, charity and scholarly treatises. He's remembered in Place Gregoire-de-Tours, adjacent to the cathedral's chevet.
St. Louis and Blanche of Castile contributed to the construction of Tours' fourth house of worship on the site. Cathedrale St-Gatien took three centuries to complete but is a tasteful amalgam of gothic architectural styles. Oldest part of the structure is the pure gothic chevet.
The soaring, rib-vaulted nave of St-Gatien's invites visitors to explore the huge church with its 23 chapels off a long ambulatory. And the various architectural styles are set off by the windows, jewels of the cathedral, from stained-glass masterpieces produced over several centuries, to the huge rose windows dominating the transepts and west front.
For a small fee, visitors are given a printed guide and are admitted to the ruins of La Cloitre de la Psalette, adjoining the cathedral's north wall. These graceful Renaissance-Gothic cathedral cloisters housed the choir, hence the name "a place where Psalms are sung."
St. Martin of Tours
- Feast Day Nov. 11
- Feast Day Nov. 13
- Feast Day Nov. 18
At the scriptorium, reached by way of an elegant Renaissance spiral staircase, visitors are greeted by an old sculpted angel, guarding the doorjamb and reading from a scroll. Facsimiles of old manuscripts are displayed in this room where religious works were copied by the cathedral canons.
There's a Canadian connection to saintly Tours. Near the cathedral, just off Rue des Ursulines, the small Chapelle St-Michel includes a museum dedicated to Blessed Marie of the Ursulines.
Born in Tours in 1599, and a frequent attendee at St-Gatien, Marie Guyart was widowed after two years of marriage to Claude Martin. Ten years after joining the Ursuline order with the name Marie of the Incarnation, she sailed for New France. She built the Ursuline convent in Quebec City, experienced visions and wrote on spiritual topics, as well as compiling native dictionaries. More than 300 years after her death, she was beatified on June 22, 1980 by Pope John Paul.