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cambrai cathedral

Cambrai cathedral after WW1 German shelling

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cambrai cathedral
what was cambrai cathedral like before the french revolution?
stained glass at cambrai cathedral
 background facts 

Cambrai cathedral

engraving of the original Cambrai cathedral
The original cathedral at Cambrai, destroyed uring the French Revolution
From Les monuments religieux de Cambrai avant et depuis 1789
by Adolphe Bruyelle, published 1854, p.2

As the capital city of Arras, under the Ancien Régime Cambrai had a beautiful cathedral. She was nicknamed "the wonder of the Low Country." There were also two abbey churches: those of Saint-Aubert and of the Holy Sepulchre.

During the Revolution, with the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790, Cambrai was entitled to three parishes: the Cathedral, Saint-Aubert and the abbey church of the Holy Sepulchre (which became a 'constitutional church'). Two years later, the parishes were abolished.

The old cathedral at Cambrai was not rebuilt after its destruction during the French Revolution. It was substituted by a church that was originally the church for the Abbey of St-Sulpice.

This abbey church was built between 1696 and 1703. It had survived the Revolution because it was used as a granary, and then became a Temple of Reason. In due course, the building was reconsecrated, first as part of a bishopric in 1802, then as part of an archbishopric, and so a cathedral, in 1841. It did not escape German attacks in World War One.

From 20 November 1917 to 3 December 1917 the Battle of Cambrai took place, noted for an early and fairly successful use of tanks by the British. Later, from 8 October 1918 to 10 October 1918, there was a second Battle of Cambrai. This second battle was part of the Hundred Days Offensive, also known as Canada’s Hundred Days, where the Germans were driven back progressively through

Cambrai cathedral before 1917
Cambrai cathedral before 1917

The tower of Cambrai cathedral, much damaged by German shelling during WW1
The tower of Cambrai cathedral, much damaged by German shelling during WW1

A thanksgiving service held in Cambrai cathedral on 13th October 1918, attended by Canadian servicemen
A thanksgiving service held in Cambrai cathedral on 13th October 1918, attended by Canadian servicemen


what was cambrai cathedral like before the french revolution?

11th century cathedral of Cambrai

I believe that the painting above may be by Adam Frans Van der Meulen, 1632-1690. In 1677, Louis XIV took Cambrai from the Spanish-Dutch alliance. This was after earlier, unsuccessful attempts by Louis XI in 1477, and Henry III and Henry IV between 1581 and 1595. Adam Van der Meulen was campaign painter to Louis XIV.

Louis XIV had along with him, his court artist, who painted several pictures associated with the siege and fall of Cambrai. Unfortunately, I do not know where the above painting is currently housed, and I am not certain that is is, in fact, by Van der Meulen.

“This cathedral was destroyed at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but by an extraordinary piece of luck, and thanks to a photograph of a no longer existing model of Cambrai, we can admire the choir which was built at the time of Villard, perhaps by the master himself. This model was one of a secret collection of models of strategically important towns and their immediate surroundings. The models, which were Louis XIV’s idea, were obviously kept from the public and from foreign diplomats. They continued to be made throughout the eighteenth century and even in part of the nineteenth century. Today they have no military importance and make a very worthwhile display in the Musée des Plans-Reliefs which is temporarily housed on the top floor of the Hôtel des Invalides. When Paris was occupied in 1815, the Germans took the opportunity to remove some of these models, including the one of Cambrai and its cathedral, to Berlin, where it was put in the Zeughaus. Unfortunately it was destroyed during the bombing of Berlin in 1944. The photograph of the model is all that remains of the cathedral.” [Quoted from The cathedral builders by Gimpel]

Cambrai cathedral was completed in 1274. In 1791, the cathedral was assigned to the “culte constitutionelle”, the version of the Catholic Church as sanitised by the Revolutionaries, but was damaged in the following year, and in 1793 it was converted into a grain store. In 1796, the cathedral was sold to Blanquart, a Saint-Quentin merchant, who progressively demolished the building and sold the stone. At the beginning of the first French Empire (1804–1814), there was a plan to keep the steeple, then still standing, as a monument to Fenelon, but the plan was abandoned as too costly. Then in 1809, a storm overturned the steeple.

If anyone can help with further information or illustrations for the medieval cathedral, or the origins of the illustration used by abelard.org, please let us know.

stained glass at cambrai cathedral

As well as ugly ninteenth-century glass and windows made by cobbling together bits shattered during WW1 shelling, there is also a series of good quality modern windows. They are however, rather stereotyped.

Here are two of the better examples:

Baptism of Clovis, Atelier Lauzier, 1933 Virgin Mary and attending angels, Atelier Lauzier, 1933
Baptism of Clovis, Atelier Lauzier, 1933 Virgin Mary and attending angels,
Atelier Lauzier, 1933
Background facts
CambraiCambrai coat of arms approximate population : 32,296
average altitude/elevation : 60 m
cathedral dimensions
length : 131 m
width : 72 m
total height (highest spire): 114 m

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end notes

  1. cambric
    A closely woven white linen or cotton fabric, first made in Cambrai. It is often treated by being put through calendaring rollers make a glossy surface. Cambric is also known as batist, especially when used for embroidery and lacework. A heavy version, often used for work shirts, is called chambray. This material is most often coloured blue, and so the resulting blue work shirts are the origin of the term‘ blue-collar’ for manual workers.

    Cambric was first made in the late 1500s, being used to make a variety of items including ruffs, petticoats, wall hangings and curtains.

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