With its majestic façade and two bell towers, the Saint-Nicolas-de-Port Basilica in Lorraine has all the makings of a grand cathedral. And yet, the building does not carry the title of cathedral for the sole reason that the town of Saint-Nicolas-de-Port has never been the seat of a bishop. This masterpiece of Gothic architecture in Lorraine has been recently renovated and gives an excellent pretext for visiting the region of Nancy.
The Saint-Nicolas-de-Port Basilica was the largest pilgrimage centre of Lorraine. The Lorrainians came there in droves to pay homage to their protector saint: St. Nicolas.
This building in the flamboyant gothic style was erected from 1481 to 1560 by the duke of Lorraine, René II. By replacing the small church with a majestic building, the duke wished to thank Saint-Nicolas for his victory against Charles the Bold, at the Battle of Nancy on 5 January 1477. The outcome of the battle allowed Lorraine to remain independent until its annexation by the Kingdom of France in 1766.
The Basilica suffered considerable damage in the bombings of June 1940 during the Second World War. In 1980, Camille Crouée Friedman, a native of the town living in New York, died, leaving a considerable sum “with the goal of reconstructing and maintaining the basilica, so that it regains its original beauty”. This legacy allowed for restoration of the building over 15 years, all through the 80s and 90s.
The Façade of Saint-Nicolas-de-Port Basilica
The summit of the towers is unfortunately inaccessible to visitors. But observation of the facade shows how much the builders put all their talent to use. Saint Nicolas welcomes visitors from the top of its niche, between the two large entry doors.
The two tall, slender 85m towers are topped with bulb bell towers.
Interior of the Basilica
The long nave of 11 spans culminates at 30m above the ground and features two 21.5m high columns (the highest in France) at the level of the transept.
As soon as you enter the building you notice a curious detail: the nave is not rectilinear. In fact, the great particularity of the Basilica is the six degree deviation to the right of the axis of the nave. Several contradictory hypotheses have been proposed to explain this non-alignment.
The columns feature numerous stone paintings: the Descent from the Cross, Job, Saint Yves, Saint Martin, Saint Aprône, and Saint Didier.
Most of the stained glass windows were destroyed during the Thirty Year’s War in 1635. However, some beautiful 16th Century glasswork still remains.
The surprising interior luminosity is due to cleverly crossing diagonal ribs substituting walls and the colour of the stone with huge windows. The homogeneity of the flamboyant gothic art is remarkable, with the extreme sobriety of the architecture being rather rare on the eve of the Renaissance.