On Monday, July 19, we had to go to Joigny to the train station to get our reservations to Nice. We wanted to take the sleeper train Tuesday night and arrive Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, we had waited to long and there was no availability, so we got tickets for Wed. morning to arrive in the afternoon. We are all excited about our trip to the South of France and looking forward to seeing new landscapes and the ocean!
We then ventured up the road a bit to the town of Sens. The guidebook said it had an interesting church, and since we haven’t had our fill of churches yet, off we went. Let’s just say, we all discovered it was one of the best decisions we’d made so far. Driving into the center of Sens, their farmers’ market (and flea market) were in full swing. We drove down a narrow street (the main street of town), right through the market, which was bustling on both sides of the road. We found parking in a lovely park in the shade, which was nice as the day appeared to me warming up. Did you know the French do not go on the grass in their parks? That’s right, it’s for display only...no picnics or frisbee throwing allowed!
Walking into the center of town, we spied the tower of the church. It was completely covered up, as some cleaning and restoration work was going on. However, the rest of the church was quite impressive from the outside. After getting some baguette sandwiches and eating lunch in the park, we explored the church.
A little history on the church. The Cathedral St. Etienne was started in 1130 by Archbishop Henri Sanglier and was the FIRST of the great Gothic cathedrals in France. During the residence in Sens of Pope Alexander III in 1163-1164 the city became the temporary capital of Christianity. Pretty cool stuff! The stain glass windows dating from the 12 century to the 17th century are absolutely magnificent. It is incredible to see these windows and know that they are survived for almost over 800 hundred years. We actually couldn’t believe they were original, given how beautiful and colorful they still are!
We wanted to do a guided tour, however the tour guide on this day did not speak English, so we decided to go into the attached museum. Actually, Ethan and I weren’t to keen on it, but the only way to use the restroom was to pay for admission to the museum and since of us needed the restroom, we all decided to go in. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far! The museum had artifacts from prehistoric through the 19th century. The most impressive area were the Roman tombs below the museum which housed sculptures and fragments of public buildings from the first through third century. The really amazing thing is that none of the Roman sculptures or building fragments were behind glass. You could touch the 2000 year old carvings and get as close as you liked. There were only a few other people in the museum (which was three stories) so we felt like we were all alone. It was marvelous!
Gardens behind museum
Roman writing implements
We also saw the cathedral treasury which houses one of the two richest collections displayed in France. The collection included two 15 century tapestries and vestments from the 8th century to the 13th century. These items were under glass and in low lit rooms, so I didn’t take any pictures (even though flash was allowed, I just didn’t think it was right to expose these ancient, fragile treasures to my flash).
The end of our tour was the Synodal Palace (attached to the Cathedral) built between 1230 and 1240. The Synod Hall had these amazing windows.
All five of us came out of the museum feeling like we had stumbled upon a rare and relatively undiscovered treasure. We ended our visit to Sens with a stroll down to the Yonne River.