Attributed Thomas Shotter Boys, 1803–1874
Bell Tower of Orléans Cathedral
Bell Tower of Orléans Cathedral
6 x 4 in (15.24 x 10.16cm.)


page from Sketch book


Orléans Cathedral is a Gothic Catholic cathedral in the city of Orléans, France. It is the seat of the Bishop of Orléans and it was built from 1278 to 1329 and 1601-1829 (after partial destruction in 1568).The cathedral is probably most famous for its association with Joan of Arc. The French heroine attended evening Mass in this cathedral on May 2, 1429, while in the city to lift the siege. The cathedral's stained glass windows now depict the story of Joan of Arc, the defender of Orléans.

The gothic style Cathedral of Sainte-Croix dominates the city centre of Orléans, and the most photographed scene in the town is undoubtedly the exceptional view along the Rue Jeanne d'Arc towards the front of the cathedral. It is said that the very first church was built here around 330 AD, at the dawn of Christianity in Europe. This very early church also contained a morsel of the True Cross, that had been discovered in Jerusalem by Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Augustin. This cathedral was completed in 450 AD and, despite substantial damage caused by the Normans, survived until the late 10th century, when a great fire destroyed the cathedral and much of the town.

In the 12th century an imposing roman style cathedral was built to replace it. This was one of the greatest cathedrals in France, but unfortunately the ambitions of the designers was not matched by their engineering skills and the cathedral collapsed in the early 13th century.
The next version of Orleans cathedral was started in 1278 and eventually completed in 1512. Although it kept a few parts of the earlier roman style cathedral, it was essentially built in the 'fashionable' gothic style of the period, with flying-buttresses to support the great height of the walls of the nave. This was the cathedral that stood here at the time of Joan of Arc. The Wars of Religion in 16th century France saw many churches destroyed, and a great part of the Cathedral of Orleans was also destroyed by the protestants in 1568.

With the signing of the Edict of Nantes in 1598 the Wars of Religion were brought to an end. Three years later, in 1601, the building of a new cathedral began, principally in the Gothic style.The building of the cathedral took until almost the end of the 17th century to be completed. In the 18th century the last remaining part of the original roman cathedral, the main entrance to the west, was demolished to make way for the imposing facade that we see today. The Revolution interrupted the work before the two towers were built, and these were only completed between 1817 and 1829. By planning or coincidence, the cathedral was completed exactly 400 years after Joan of Arc had broken the siege of Orleans by the English. It was also at this time that the area in front of the cathedral was cleared away to make room for the new Rue Jeanne d'Arc, much as we see it today. Since that time, the original belltower was replaced, and some damage was repaired after the Second World War, but the cathedral we see in Orleans today is essentially the cathedral built between 1601 and 1829. It is the western facade that is the most interesting feature of the cathedral, with its ornate stonework, 88 metre high towers and three rose windows. The highest point of the cathedral, the belltower, reaches a height of 114 metres. The transepts also have interesting features such as rose windows so be sure to walk right round the outside to see all the highlights. Inside, Orleans cathedral follows a conventional design with a main nave, side naves, a transept and the choir section. The grey stone gives a rather sombre look to the high columns and arches.The stained glass windows, although mostly quite recent additions to the cathedral, are also interesting, in particular those that relate events from the life of Joan of Arc. Since little of the original cathedral from 1429 now remains, the windows act as a useful reminder of the events and history that have taken place here over the centuries.

Artist biography

Boys was born at Pentonville, London, on 2 January 1803. He was articled to the engraver George Cooke. When his apprenticeship came to an end he went to Paris where he met and came under the influence of Richard Parkes Bonington, who persuaded him to abandon engraving for painting. Some sources describe him as a pupil of Bonington, although William Callow, who later shared a studio with him in Paris, disputed this.

He exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time in 1824, and in Paris in 1827. In 1830 he went to Brussels, but returned to England on the outbreak of the revolution there. Paying another visit to Paris, he remained there until 1837, and then returned to England in order to lithograph the works of David Roberts and Clarkson Stanfield.

His most important work, Picturesque Architecture in Paris, Ghent, Antwerp, Rouen, etc., a collection of colour lithographs, appeared in 1839, attracting a great deal of admiration.Drawn on the stone by Boys and printed by Charles Joseph Hullmandel, it was described in a review in the Polytechnic Journal as "the first successful effort in chroma-lithography  hitherto brought to perfection". King Louis-Philippe sent the artist a ring in recognition of its merits. He also published Original Views of London as it is, drawn and lithographed by himself, (London, 1843). He drew the illustrations to Blackie's History of England, and etched some plates for John Ruskin's Stones of Venice.

Boys was a member of the Institute of Painters in Water Colours, and of several foreign artistic societies. He died in 1874.