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Nineteenth Century triumph

7 Nov 10 | Re: A site to see

While it’s fresh in my mind, I want to write a little bit about Lille Cathedral (dedicated to Notre Dame de la Treille). In a city that astonished at every turn me with its general standard of architecture, the cathedral stood out as particularly fine. It has the same air of holy stillness that struck me when I visited St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, and there’s really no higher compliment I can pay. It was built in the nineteenth century, making it relatively new; one advantage of this is that the various side chapels were planned and constructed all at once. In older cathedrals the smaller chapels have usually been built at different times and paid for by various people, often over hundreds of years, so it’s nice to see one where they’ve been planned as a matching set. Mosaics are the defining feature, and the building is also late enough to have been built after Joan of Arc’s canonisation, so she gets a chapel dedicated to her.

Mosaics are actually a good choice, because they neither pretend to be Medieval nor attempt to negotiate the minefield of applying modern styles to an entire cathedral interior, which can often date very quickly and end up looking tasteless or irreverant. That said, there are a few obviously modern features that work very well. The Stations of the Cross in particular are done in an expressive, primitivist style that brings the raw emotion to life far more effectively than traditional realist representations - for me, they were the most memorable single feature of the interior.

The west wall is also worth a mention. It’s made of a translucent marble which looks nice but unremarkable from the outside, but from the inside it lets the daylight in and takes on a beautiful orange glow. According to the information on offer, its letting in of some of the light is intended to symbolise the communication betweek religious life and everyday life, reminding us that the Church doesn’t exist in isolation from the outside world. A splendid idea, and one that works as well in practice as in theory.

All in all, then, the cathedral is highly recommended. It has a website here - Lille Cathedral - which shows some of the main features, although I’m afraid I can’t find the Stations of the Cross on there. You’ll have to go and see them in person.

Lille: more than just a stop on the Eurostar.

Posted by LIL WOLF at 13:13

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