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.
The cathedral has evolved over the past…
In the 18th century, French architect Blondel added a neo-Classic addition to the Western façade.
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 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.
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.
My book recommendation!
Its name? Simply:
Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting by Rolf Toman, Publisher: Ullmann
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.
Inside Metz Cathedral: a breathtaking sight!
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”.
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.
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.
An Egyptian Baptismal font
In the nave, opposite the entrance, is a baptismal font of Egyptian origins.
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!)
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).
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.
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…
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 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.
In the same room is an altar from the 9th century:
You won’t miss the terrifying model of the Graoully, the ancient dragon that once terrorised the people of Metz!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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…
Practical info about Metz!
- Why you should discover the city of Metz
- The Christmas market in Metz
- The Tourist Office website of Metz
Inspired? Pin it for later:
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. ?
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What an amazing cathedral! Your photos are beautiful, Pierre and it’s now definitely on my “must-see” list!
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 ! 👋