Archive for February 11th, 2019

February 11, 2019

Notre Dame Church of Vitré!

So here I am back at you with wonderful stories of my beloved Brittany. Having crisscross this vast region ,I have encountered many works of arts of great beauty , history and architecture values in many places. Indeed France is a movable feast!

Having visited Vitré, I have done posts on the sights in a general sense, and I am coming back in more in depth details on my favorites. The Notre Dame Church of Vitré , really can be said to be more like a Cathedral for its wealth of beauty, not enough to post in one single entry ! I will give you some details and hopefully you will go see it and tell me about it , love the sharing of my love of history and architecture with you all.  Disclaimer, I am neither a history major nor an architect but love the fields!

Notre-Dame of Vitré is a parish Church. The parish of the rich overseas merchants, the flamboyant Gothic building was erected mainly in the 15-16C. Opening to the west on Place Notre-Dame square, along the rue Notre Dame to the south, it occupies the highest point of the old town, prudent against the northern front of the medieval enclosure overlooking the Vilaine river. Only its facades north, west and south are visible, the choir being held in the north in the buildings of the ancient priory of the Benedictines, and masked in the Levant and at midday by an urban islet and the sacristy. And oh yes it is in dept 35 Ille et Vilaine!


A bit of history I like

Robert I of Vitré, the founder, circa 1060, of a collegiate church placed under the summons of Saint Mary. The remarkable density of religious buildings with ancient terms (chapelles Saint-Julien and Saint-Michel, Saint-Pierre churches, Saint-Martin, Sainte-Marie) suggests that Vitré was already an important and coherent demographic entity at the time Merovingian and Carolingian periods. If the collegiate Church of Notre-Dame could go back to the 10C, if it is undoubtedly attested as a parish in 1070-1075.  The French revolution ransacked the interior of the Church, which the priests later attached to endowing it with Gothic furniture of quality.


A longer description of this beauty of Vitré, Ille et Vilaine and Brittany!

The southern facade of the Notre-Dame Church is only partially visible, an island of houses and the large sacristy built perpendicular to the Chorus preventing any vision of the bedside otherwise masked at the septentrion by the buildings of the old Benedictine Priory. Built from east to west from 1480 to 1540, its original flamboyant architectural vocabulary tends to enrich itself with details of the first renaissance as we progress towards the west façade. Thus, the four most right gables were built between 1480 and 1500, with the three most western gables being done from 1530 to 1540.  The western facade of Notre-Dame of Vitré dates back to 1550. In its large nave, it is less finely than that on the south side, with a more Renaissance-style decoration.


At the top of an important step, the west portal is a perfect example of the art of the second Renaissance inspired by the canons of antiquity. In the manner of a triumphal arch, the full-hanger door is placed under a triglyphal and metopes-shaped interchangeable pediment. Two pairs of columns of Doric order resting on high pedestals support this scholarly composition. The work is housed under an arch, the underside of which should have been adorned with partially made caissons. The door adorns with representations of the Crucifixion, the Apostles Peter, Paul, John and Andre. A laurel wreath, the 1586 vintage and two merchant brands complete this scholarly decoration. Upstairs, a mistress window with four mullions and flamboyant tracery is housed under an archivolt, supposed to have abundant lighting in the generally blind Breton naves. Compared to the west and south facades of the Notre Dame Church, the northern flank appears particularly stripped. Devoid of sculpture, it originally hided against the cloister of the Benedictine priory before it was rebuilt by the Maurists in the 17C, northeast of the bedside of the Church of Notre-Dame

 Notre-Dame Church of Vitré offers a singular plan for a Breton church. The nave is located on six bays and is accosted by two collaterals serving six chapels in the north, five in the south and a sacristy. The development of the nave is halted by the mighty pillars bearing the cross of the transept prolonged on either side by two arms, each endowed with an oriental apsidiole. A deep chorus, rectangular in shape and stalker to the right, extends the building to the Orient. In the former Duchy of Brittany, only the cathedrals of Nantes and Quimper now offer the party of three western naves accosted by lateral chapels.


Five doors give access to the building: one, in the center of the western façade, two south side of the building at the third Chapel (middle gate) and the transept (upper gate), one in the north transept and the last in the northern Choir of the monks. These last two served under the old regime the Benedictine Priory. Until the clearing of the place Notre-Dame en 1958, occupied then by the hall south facade of the building, facing the city and preceded by the pourer’s. Thus, nowadays, the altar where the offices are celebrated still occupies the last nave span preceding the crossing of the transept.


The main stained glass of the Notre-Dame of Vitré dates back to the 19C. If the original glazing almost disappeared, the building retains an exceptional room (the entrance of Christ in Jerusalem) dating from the 16C, and two earlier fragments of the end of the previous century. Three windows of the Notre Dame Church retain stained glass from the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

The stained-glass window of the seigneurial chapel. The last chapel on the south aisle, located on the floor of the old sacristy, houses a fragment of an annunciation dating from the late 15C. The Archangel Gabriel is placed in a flamboyant kiosk on the paved ground, in front of a richly adorned Damascus background.

The northern window of the Monks’ choir conceals in its tympanum a Crucifixion and two ecus one, to the left, of glazed silver of a lion crawling the Gauls, the other, to the right, of the family of Montmorency-Laval , second branch of the Laval House, which held the Vitré castle from 1254 to 1547. The third southern Chapel of the Notre-Dame Church serves as a setting for the canopy narrating the entrance of Christ to Jerusalem. This illustration of the twigs bears the date of 1537. It is a stained glass table that finds place in a Renaissance setting where putti, heads of cherubs, bucranes, antique heads in medallions, all adorned with vegetable garlands.

Notre Dame of Vitré was endowed with an organ built by Paul Maillard from 1636 to 1639. The Grande organs, built in 1851 by Paul-Alexandre Ducroquet for the World Exhibition in London, won the great gold medal on this occasion. Acquired in 1852, the instrument, perched on the reverse of the western façade of the Church of Notre-Dame on a Renaissance tribune dated from 1639 and embellished with a gothic railing, is housed in a ogival buffet. The Choir organ of Notre-Dame is located in the fifth chapel overlooking the northern collateral of the church. This was delivered in 1971.


The altarpiece of the Life of the Virgin and of Christ. The history of this altarpiece, once preserved in the sacristy of the Church of Notre-Dame and today presented in the old Chapel Saint-Michel of the Castle of Vitré(see post on it)  is known to us thanks to an inscription appearing on the back of the work. Realized in the 1540’s it was given for the 1544 Christmas to the parish by its priest. It presents itself as a triptych composed of 48 enameled plates of Limoges origin grouped on four rows, the shutters each containing twelve scenes framed and closing on the central part which takes into account 24 scenes. These enamels, narrates the life of the Virgin and the one of Christ.


As always, some webpages to help you plan your trip here are

City of Vitré on Notre Dame Church

Tourist office of dept 35 Ille et Vilaine on the Notre Dame Church

Heritage of Brittany on the ND Church

There you go another beauty detail a bit more for you; hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Vitré is pack with beauties not to be missed.

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!





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