Discover Metz Cathedral, the Lantern of God

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Metz Cathedral is an impressive sanctuary with fantastic stained-glass windows and Gothic features. The Saint-Etienne Cathedral in Metz is, not surprisingly, the most visited site in Lorraine. Nicknamed the “Lantern of God”, the sanctuary is the most luminous cathedral of France.

 

Metz Cathedral: an historic monument

The construction of Saint-Etienne Cathedral in Metz started in the 1220s, on the site of an older religious building. Its unique ochre-yellow colour is due to the use of a quality local stone: the stone of Jaumont. It took three centuries to complete the cathedral, which was consecrated in 1552.

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

Metz in the Middle-Ages © French Moments

The cathedral has evolved over the past…

In the 18th century, French architect Blondel added a neo-Classic addition to the Western façade.

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The Western façade (left: by Blondel in the 18th C – centre: during the restauration works – right: as it looks nowardays) © French Moments

During the German annexation of Metz (1871-1918), Prussian architect Tornow had it replaced in a more coherent neo-Gothic style. The portico contains a plethora of statues, more in line with the rest of the building.

The Western Façade © French Moments

The Western Façade © French Moments

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The western portal of Metz Cathedral © French Moments

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The portail of the Western façade © French Moments

The great fire of 1877

In May 1877, fireworks organised from the roof of the cathedral in honour of the German emperor William II caused a fire which completely destroyed the roof and its wooden framework.

The great fire of 7 May 1877

The great fire of 7 May 1877

The cathedral's roof after the fire

The cathedral’s roof after the fire

The cathedral's roof after the fire

The cathedral’s roof after the fire

Between 1880 and 1882, the authorities decided to raise the height of the new copper roof by 4.5 metres. This limits the rake of the towers, which now seem under proportioned.

Metz Cathedral © French Moments


My book recommendation!

Its name? Simply:

Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting by Rolf Toman, Publisher: Ullmann

My copy of the book "Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting"

My copy of the book “Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting”

This book has been for me a great resource that helped me better understand the Gothic movement in art from the 12th century to the Renaissance. An architectural style that first originated from France and spread all over Europe.

Over 500 pages it focuses on the development of Gothic architecture with many illustrations and photographs, but not only. I’ve also found interesting the in-depth discussion of the most diverse art forms, including painting, sculpture, metalwork and even book illumination! It also includes specific coverage of the Cathars’ Heresy and the Papal Palace in Avignon. And, of course, it mentions the cathedral of Saint-Etienne de Metz!

This is definitely the book I recommend if – like me – you love everything about Gothic such as churches, gargoyles, stained glass, flying buttresses and so much more.

👉 Order it online!


Inside Metz Cathedral: a breathtaking sight!

Floor Map of Metz Cathedral

The nave

Once inside the cathedral, the nave impresses by the height of its arch, suspended 40 metres above the ground. It is the 3rd highest nave in France. The poet Verlaine had rightly written that the cathedral was “the lantern of God”.

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The nave © French Moments

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The vaults © French Moments

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The vaults of Metz Cathedral © French Moments

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

Looking up! © French Moments

The stained-glass windows

In fact, the building contains the largest surface area of stained glass of all French cathedrals (almost 6,500 square metres).

The 14th century stained-glass windows by Hermann de Münster rival the contemporary products of Marc Chagall and Jacques Villon.

Stained-glass windows of Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The stained-glass windows from Hermann de Münster © French Moments

Stained-glass windows of Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The stained-glass from the choir © French Moments

Stained-glass windows of Metz Cathedral © French Moments

Details of stained-glass windows © French Moments

Look at the magnificent stained-glass windows of the transept:

Other interesting features inside Metz Cathedral

Observation of the furniture and the statuary is often neglected in such a cathedral where the visitor’s gaze is drawn upward.

The Renaissance organ

It is worth noticing a small Renaissance organ from 1527 which creates a beautiful tone suspended in the nave.

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The Renaissance organ © French Moments

Renaissance organ, Metz cathedral © French Moments

The Renaissance organ © French Moments

Renaissance organ, Metz cathedral © French Moments

Detail of the Renaissance organ © French Moments

Renaissance organ, Metz cathedral © French Moments

The wooden panels of the Renaissance organ © French Moments

An Egyptian Baptismal font

In the nave, opposite the entrance, is a baptismal font of Egyptian origins.

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The baptismal fonts © French Moments

The funny culots

Just under the course of the triforium are about 180 culs-de-lampe (or culots in French). They take the form of people, plants, animals, monsters and demons. Most of them are people on their knees or in crouching position, except for a cheeky one showing his bottom (the closest one to the bishop’s seat!)

Metz Cathedral - cul-de-lampe © French Moments

An eagle (cul-de-lampe) © French Moments

Metz Cathedral - cul-de-lampe © French Moments

A woman in prayer (cul-de-lampe) © French Moments

Metz Cathedral - cul-de-lampe © French Moments

A singing (or crying?) fellow (cul-de-lampe) © French Moments

Metz Cathedral - cul-de-lampe © French Moments

A man in crouching position (cul-de-lampe) © French Moments

Metz Cathedral - cul-de-lampe © French Moments

A praying men (cul-de-lampe) © French Moments

Metz Cathedral - cul-de-lampe © French Moments

A man showing his bottom (cul-de-lampe) © French Moments

The bishop’s seat

Also of interest is the old Episcopal throne of Saint-Clement. (read our page on the Old Town of Metz to learn more about the legend of Saint-Clement).

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

Throne of Saint-Clement © French Moments

The choir stalls

Although the choir stalls have a medieval look, they are an 20th century addition.

Théophile Klem, a carpenter from Colmar, worked on the neo-Gothic stalls in 1913-1914 using oak tree. They were installed in 1922 and 1923.

Choir stalls, Metz Cathedral © French Moments

A section of the choir stalls © French Moments

Some of the wood statuettes are finely sculpted and feature a great array of curious characters: a craftsman sticking out his tongue, an elephant playing flute with its trunk…

Choir stalls, Metz Cathedral © French Moments

An elephant playing the flute with his trunk, Choir stalls © French Moments

Choir stalls, Metz Cathedral © French Moments

This one looks very bored! Choir stalls © French Moments

Choir stalls, Metz Cathedral © French Moments

An angel, Choir stalls © French Moments

Just note that there is restricted access to the choir stalls. It is possible to admire them on guided tours organised by the Tourist Office of Metz.

The bosses of the radiant chapels

Walk through the ambulatory, the space which surrounds the choir. The radiant chapels have bosses covering the joins between their ribs. They are highly coloured and represent various coat of arms.

The coat of arms of the Dukes of Lorraine, radiant chapel in Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The coat of arms of the Dukes of Lorraine, radiant chapel in Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The Crypt

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

In the crypt © French Moments

The cathedral’s crypt (admission fee payable) reveals itself to be an interesting place. In the first 2 rooms it contains models of the Metz cathedral in different eras as well as the great cathedrals of France.

A third room houses the funerary chapel where 6 bishops of Metz are buried.

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The slab stones indicating the burial site of the bishops of Metz © French Moments

In the same room is an altar from the 9th century:

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The Carolingian altar (9th century) © French Moments

You won’t miss the terrifying model of the Graoully, the ancient dragon that once terrorised the people of Metz!

Graoully © French Moments

The Graoully © French Moments


The Cathedral’s Towers

The two towers of the cathedral are the Tour de la Mutte and the Tour du Chapitre.

Tour de la Mutte

Reaching 90 metres, the spire of the Tour de la Mutte, on the Southern façade, has been the highest building of Metz since the Middle Ages. There hangs an enormous bell named “La Mutte”, weighing 11 kilos and measuring 2,32 metres in diametre. Casted in 1605, this alarm bell was only used to announced all the rumours of war or invasions by the enemies of the Free city of Metz.

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

Tour de la Mutte © French Moments

One time, when French King Charles IX was staying in Metz, the Mutte cracked in announcing the supposed victory of his troops over the Huguenots at Jarnac and the reported capture of Coligny: hence the saying, “The Mutte will crack rather than tell a lie”.

From the time of the French occupation in 1552 till 1790, the Mutte rang at six o’clock “to say good-night to the king of France and his family”.

It rang for the last time in 1918, when the French took the city of Metz back from the Prussians. Renovated in 2015, it rings again on important occasions and celebrations.

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The Mutte bell inside the Tour de la Mutte © French Moments

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The Tour de la Mutte © French Moments © French Moments

Tour du Chapitre

The Tour du Chapitre (Chapter Tower) is 90 metre high and hosts 5 bells. The lower part of the tower was built in the 13th century and the higher part from 1840 to 1843. The Tour du Chapitre is located on the Northern façade, opposite to the Tour de la Mutte.

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

Tour du chapitre © French Moments

Unlike the cathedrals of Notre-Dame de Paris and Strasbourg, the highest tower of the building is not accessible to the visitors. According to the Cathedral’s reception staff, for safety reasons it is unfortunately no longer possible to climb the Tower of the Mutte and no date has been set for its reopening.


Metz Cathedral at night

It is worth staying in Metz overnight that way you get to enjoy the illuminations of its major monuments. Metz recently won the National Grand Prix for Lighting awarded by the National Academy of Street Arts.

Christmas in Metz © French Moments

Place d’Armes at Christmas © French Moments

The beautiful cathedral, carefully lit at night is visible from far, like a golden crown above the city. In summer, a night stroll along the Moselle River bank is a must. Make sure you don’t forget to walk through Place de la Comédie, located on an island where you can see one of the best sights of Metz’ illuminations: the cathedral, the opera-theatre and the Temple Neuf.

Christmas in Metz © French Moments

The cathedral of Metz seen from Moyen-Pont © French Moments

Don’t miss the Place d’Armes, encircled by the cathedral and the Town-Hall. Since 2007 a new lighting system has been implemented, enhancing the city’s self-proclaimed title of “capital of lights”.

Metz Cathedral © French Moments

The illuminated façade © French Moments


A charming hotel with a view!

During my stay, I was accommodated at the Hôtel de la cathédrale***, situated 25 place de Chambre in Metz.

You can’t find a better central place to explore the old town and…

As it names indicates, the hotel faces the cathedral of Metz, a jewel of Gothic architecture.

Hôtel de la Cathédrale Metz © French Moments

Metz Cathedral seen from my room at Hôtel de la Cathédrale © French Moments

The hotel occupies a historic monument (without lift) with beautifully decorated rooms. Invited by agence Inspire Metz I was lucky to have a room at the last level with a fantastic view of the cathedral.

👉 Book your room at Hôtel de la Cathédrale in Metz here…

Hôtel de la Cathédrale in Metz © French Moments

A beautifully decorated hotel! Hôtel de la Cathédrale in Metz © French Moments

Hôtel de la Cathédrale in Metz © French Moments

My room at Hôtel de la Cathédrale in Metz © French Moments


Practical info about Metz!

Inspired? Pin it for later:

Explore Metz cathedral © French Moments


Thank you to agence Inspire Metz for welcoming me during this unforgettable stay in Metz. This was such a superb opportunity to discover the holiday season in Metz. This article is the account of my stay and I hope it will encourage you to come and explore this beautiful historic town in Lorraine. ?

The above links are affiliate links and if you click and make a booking we receive a small amount of commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra but it helps us keep the blog running and provide quality content for everyone to enjoy.


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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management.

2 Comments

    • Thank you Ellen! It is indeed a remarkable church. And on my last visit there I also discovered many other historic churches in Metz with amazing stained-glass windows, some dating back to the Middle-Ages. Bon dimanche ! 👋

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