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 religious structure in Lorraine. Nicknamed the “Lantern of God”, the sanctuary is the most luminous cathedral of France.
Historic Overview of Metz Cathedral
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 classic great door, erected in the 18th Century, was later destroyed by the authorities under the Prussian annexation in the 19th and 20th centuries, to be replaced by a tympanum of neo-gothic portico containing a plethora of statues, more in line with the rest of the building.
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.
The Interior of Metz Cathedral
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”.
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.
Observation of the furniture and the statuary is often neglected in such a cathedral where the visitor’s gaze is drawn upward. It is worth noticing a small Renaissance organ from 1527 which creates a beautiful tone suspended in the nave. The expression of a statue of Christ with links to the 16th century in the chapel of Saint-Sacrement garners interest, as well as the baptismal fonts located in the nave, opposite the entry and the Episcopal throne of Saint-Clement. (read our page on the Old Town of Metz to learn more about the legend of Saint-Clement).
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.
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.
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”.
Official site of Metz Cathedral: http://www.cathedrale-metz.fr/
Scheduled visiting hours have been established in order to respect this place of worship: between 8am and 7pm in summer, and between 8am and 6pm in winter.
Metz Tourist Centre: http://tourisme.metz.fr