Le Mans Cathedral is one of the most beautiful religious monuments in France today. The nave is a treasure of Roman art & the chancel apse of Gothic art. It reflects the different periods of its construction from the XI century to the XV century.
In the IV century a cleric named Julien brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Le Mans. He became the first bishop & built the first cathedral.
In the XI century the first church, completely rebuilt in the IX century, was reconstructed between 1060 & 1120. The construction was finished by a monk-architect Jean, from Vendôme. The aisles are all that remain from the original construction. The roman architecture & decoration (mouldings, capitals, alternating coloured stones) come from Normandy.
In 1134 the town & the cathedral were destroyed by fire. The wooden-roofed central nave was wrecked, whereas the stone aisles were spared. It was decided to reinforce the pillars in the nave to support a stone vault. The new Gothic style, now spreading towards the West, was applied in the rebuilding (ie. the intersection of ribs). The restored cathedral was consecrated in 1158. The Ligerian style of decor (mid Loire Valley) is displayed in the capitals with acanthus leaves & the portal which faces the main street of the city.
Around 1120 the XI century roman chancel was replaced by a gigantic construction which signified the influence of Gothic architecture at the time. It required the efforts of 3 successive archtects: a Soisonnais, a Norman & a Parisien (maybe Jean de Chelles); since errors in the plans led to difficulties. The result is an original edifice which was inaugurated in 1254. On the exterior there are numerous flying buttresses joined together in the shape of the letter V, all these point skywards.
Between the XIV century & the XV century the difference in height (10m) between the chancel & the rest of the edifice was thought to be undesirable, & so reconstruction of the transept began. In 1385 the south side was started; the north side was completed around 1430. It was the work of Jean Le Maczon, Nicolas de l'Écluze & Jean de Dampmartin. The flamboyant Gothic architectural style was suppressed, in order that the new construction would match the style of the chancel. A lack of funds prevented the reconstruction of the nave. The first vault of the nave & of the tansept were joined together to a surprisingly harmonious effect.
The irregular quadrangular walls 1300m in length form the gallo-roman surrounding walls of Le Mans. They surround the city up to the plateau of Sargé, between the Sarthe & the Isaac stream.
Constructed without solid foundations, except at the angle of Saint-Benoît, the base is composed of a partially buried sub-structure of about 5 meters. This was judged to be sufficient to assure the stability of the structure. The height of the foundations varies from one place to another, from between 2 & 5 layers, each with bindings. The original level of ground appears on parts of the foundations but is now in a very dry state,& is surmounted into higher parts by a framework of concealed borders decorated with a central bossage of arcs & circles.
The elevation of the walls follow the style of each layer separated by further layers of 3 bricks. The citation of the XVII century "Bourges, Lyon, Le Mans with Limoges forming the 4 red towns" finds its origin in the aspect of the 4 corners of the wall where the bricks & layers, made from small quarry-stones, are joined by red mortar.
The builders experimented with different colour chalk mortars to create a geometric decor: diamonds, obliques, triangles, chevrons & hour-glasses.
12 towers are still visible today, linked or separated from the walls. The latter is the most common nowadays. The tower of Pans de Gorron, of hexagonal shape, are of exceptional quality. These towers had rooms containing provisions.
Many of the towers were well preserved. The Grande Poterne has still kept its extrenal decoration.
The wall was conceived at the heart of a campaign to produce a new political defense for the Empire at the end of the III century. Apart from its aesthetics, its mass & its high position, it symbolised for the actors of the moment, at the time of power changes, to bring central imperial power & a political role to Le Mans, & was a symbol of a hold on territorial management.