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cathedrals 16:
Cathédrale Saint-Gatien
at Tours

front facade of Angers cathedral

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Tour de France 2023s

New translation, the Magna Carta

the North rose - a technical structure
some windows
Saint Martin
Jesse Tree
background facts

end notes

The city of Tours was the site of the great battle in 732 that marked the start of the retreat of the then world-conquering Saracens. This event determined that Europe would be Christian, not Muslim.

The cathedral at Tours has been rebuilt several times, the older edifices destroyed or badly damaged by fire. Thus the first cathedral, dedicated to Saint Maurice was built between 337 and 371. It burnt in 558, but was rebuilt and reopened in 590.

Work on the actual building started in about 1220. By 1356, the cathedral was rededicated to Saint Gatius, or Gatien in French. The cathedral was eventually finished in the 16th century.

Inside, the cathedral's main glory is the fine medallion panels all through the choir, not only in the chapels, but also in the fifteen large lights of the clerestory.

It is hard to know exactly when various features were developed in this cathedral, as it was built over such a long period. It is often claimed that it was here that glass of greater transparency was used to 'improve' the light entering the cathedral, and that this went on to influence cathedral building in England. However, this history is dubious.

In Tours cathedral, more light is admitted by the increased amount of glass with its greater transparency, and by the use of grisaille, particularly in the triforium.

Part of the tribune level at Troyes cathedral
Part of the triforium level at Tours cathedral

the North rose - a technical structure

north rose, Tours cathedral - interior north rose exterior
north rose interior north rose exterior
image credit: Zairon,via creative commons

The earliest rose window is the one in the north transept, installed in the beginning of the 14th century. The rose was placed into a square section of the window filled with plain glass. After the rose was built, stability problems arose.

Considering its great complexity and delicacy, it was not surprising that this window did not turn out exactly as planned. Like the rose windows of other cathedrals built at this period, such as that at Troyes cathedral, using ever thinner tracery meant the weight of the glass and leading could no longer be supported.

Thus, extra support and strength had to be added - for Tours a central stone prop and rather spectacular external buttressing were installed to prevent total collapse. The vertical stone bars gave the appearance of dividing the rose into two, both at the interior of the window and the exterior.

Outside, dramatic buttressing was added to Tours cathedral north facade, supporting the rose window and preventing the whole facade bursting apart.

Tours cathedral north facade, showing the dramatic buttressing supporting the rose window
Tours cathedral north facade, showing the dramatic buttressing supporting the rose window

Plan for the cathedral of Saint-Gatien, Tours
Plan for the cathedral of Saint-Gatien, Tours

some windows

"While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
all seated on the ground,
The angel of the lord came down,
And glory shone around."
[Nathan Tate, 1652-1715]

The angel, with a red halo and green top, emerging from white clouds, floats at the top of the blue arch. The angel looks down at the two shepherds, one to each side.

while shepherds watched their flocks' stained glass window

A bishop supervises the construction of a church

A bishop supervises the construction of a church


window of saint martin

Saint Martin (371-396) was a Roman centurion who started his saintly deeds by cutting his military cloak in half and giving a half to a rags-clad beggar one bitter winter. Later, he converted to Christianity and became the Bishop of Tours. His remains were buried in the crypt of the earliest version of the Basilica at Tours.

Saint Martin's Day is on 11/11 (11th November), a day now more widely commemorated for Armistice Day of World War One!

Saint Martin cuts his cloak in half. xx Saint Martin is appointed Bishop of Tours
Saint Martin cuts his cloak in half.   Saint Martin is appointed Bishop of Tours

Jesse Tree window

This Jesse Tree window is one of the very earliest illustrated stained glass windows, constructed in the 12th to 13th century. This window is also a very early representation of the Jesse tree in glass. Previously to this, Jesse trees were depicted by book illustrations.

The Jesse Tree at Tours cathedral, showing Jesse sleeping with the tree growing from his 'loins'.
The Jesse Tree at Tours cathedral,
showing Jesse sleeping with the tree growing from his 'loins'.

Background facts


Arms of the city of Tours

approximate population : 133 000
average altitude : 44–109 m/144–358 ft
département: Indre-et-Loire (37)

cathedral dimensions

• overall length : 100 m/330 ft
• width : 28 m/92 ft
• north tower height : 68 m/223 ft
• south tower height : 69 m/226 ft
                               392 steps
• nave length : 90 metres
• nave width : 32 metres
• nave height : 29 metres
• transept length : 48 metres
• transept width : 10 metres
• transept height : 29 metres
• 15 windows in the apse



Cathedrals and cloisters of the Isle de France
Elise Whitlock Rose

Cathedrals and cloisters of the Isle de France

G. Putnam’s Sons
Published 1910

Pope Alexander III and the Council of Tours (1163)
A Study of Ecclesiastical Politics and Institutions in the Twelfth Century

by Somerville, Robert
Pope Alexander III and the Council of Tours (1163) by Robert Somerville

1977, University of California Press, Berkeley,
SBN 0-520-03184-9
Out of print.

La cathédrale de Tours
by Francis Salet
La cathédrale de Tours Henri Laurens, Paris
1949, pbk
Series : Petites Monographies des grands édifices de la France

The Early Iconography of the Tree of Jesse
by A Watson
The Early Iconography of the Tree of Jesse

Oxford University Press
1934, hbk

4to., pp.xiv,197,(xl), navy cloth, gilt, b/w frontispiece, 40 b/w plates to rear of volume

In Living Memory: Portraits of the Fourteenth-Century Canons of Dorchester Abbey

In Living Memory: Portraits of the Fourteenth-Century Canons of Dorchester Abbey
by Lucy Freeman Sandler

Nottingham Medieval Studies - 56():pp. 327-349 [22 pages]

BrepolsOnline, Brepols Publishers NV

This publication is sold as a .pdf download of a journal article.
An individual can have "unlimited access" for $22.00 plus tax ($1.21), a total of $23.21.

"To gain access to your content, please go to: www.brepolsonline.net, log on to your account and navigate to your purchased content. If you have questions regarding this purchase, or require additional help, please contact us at Brepols Publishers NV"

end notes

  1. Saint Gatien was

marker cathedrals – introduction: reading stained glass
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marker cathedrals, an illustrated glossary
marker Chartres - wonder of the world
marker Notre Dame de Paris, Paris
marker lantern towers of Normandy and elsewhere
marker history of ugly stained glass: Auch, Bazas, Dreux
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marker at France pages Dax and church iconography marker photographs, Dax
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marker Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon
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marker Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges - the cathedral of the Pyrenees
marker Cathedrale Saint-Gatien at Tours

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marker cathedrals in Lorraine - the Three Bishoprics
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marker cathedrals and cloisters of Franceby Elise Whitlock Rose
marker the perpendicular or English style of cathedral
marker Romanesque churches and cathedrals in south-west France

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