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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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a town of north-central France, capital of an arrondissement in the department of Yonne, 71 m. S.E. of Paris on the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee railway. Pop. (1906) 13,701. It is situated on the right bank of, and on an island in, the Yonne just below its confluence with the Vanne. The streets of the town are narrow, but it is surrounded by fine promenades. The cathedral of St Etienne, one of the earliest Gothic buildings in France, is additionally interesting because the architecture of its choir influenced through the architect, William of Sens, that of the choir of Canterbury cathedral. St Etienne was begun in 1140 and only completed early in the 16th century. It belongs mainly to the 12th century, and it is characterized by solidity rather than by beauty of proportion or richness of ornamentation. The west front is pierced by three portals; that in the middle has good sculptures, representing the parable of the virgins and the story of St Stephen. The right-hand portal contains twenty-two remarkable statuettes of the prophets, which have suffered considerable injuries. Above this portal rises the stone tower, decorated with armorial bearings and with statues representing the principal benefactors of the church. The bells in the campanile by which the tower is surmounted enjoyed immense reputation in the middle ages; the two which still remain, La Savinienne and La Potentienne, weigh respectively 15 tons 7 cwt. and 13 tons 13 cwt. The left portal is adorned with two bas-reliefs, Liberality and Avarice, as well as with the story of John the Baptist. The portal on the north side of the cathedral is one of the finest examples of French 16th-century sculpture, that on the south side is surmounted by magnificent stainedglass windows. Other windows of the 12th to the 16th century are preserved, some of them representing the legend of St Thomas of Canterbury. Among the interior adornments are the tomb of the dauphin (son of Louis XV.) and his consort, Marie Josephe of Saxony, one of the works of William Coustou the younger, and bas-reliefs representing scenes from the life of Cardinal Duprat, chancellor of France and archbishop of Sens from 1525 to 1535. The mausoleum from which they came was destroyed at the Revolution. The treasury, one of the richest in antiquities in France, contains a fragment of the true cross presented by Charlemagne, and the vestments of St Thomas of Canterbury.

It was in the cathedral of Sens that St Louis, in 1234, married Marguerite of Provence, and five years later deposited the crown of thorns. To the south of the cathedral are the official buildings, dating from the 13th century, but restored by Viollet-le-Duc.

The old judgment-hall and the dungeons had remained intact; in the former is a collection of fragments of sculpture from the cathedral; on the first story is the synod hall, vaulted with stone and lighted by beautiful grisaille windows. A Renaissance structure connects the buildings with the archiepiscopal palace, which also dates from that period. The oldest of the other churches of Sens is St Savinian, the foundation of which dates from the 3rd century; the crypt and other portions of the church are of Romanesque architecture. The museum of Sens contains, among other antiquities, some precious MSS., notably a famous missal with ivory covers, and a collection of sculptured stones mainly derived from the old Roman fortifications, which were themselves constructed from the ruins of public monuments at the beginning of the barbarian invasions. The town has statues of Baron J. J. Thenard, the famous chemist, and of the sculptor Jean Cousin. Sens is the seat of a sub-prefect, and includes among its public institutions a tribunal of first instance, a tribunal of commerce, a chamber of commerce, a council of trade arbitrators and a lycee for boys. Among the industries are flourmilling, tanning and the manufacture of agricultural implements, boots and shoes, chemicals and cutlery; there is trade in wine, grain, wood, coal and wool, in which the port on the Yonne has some share.

Sens, when the capital of the Senones, one of the most powerful peoples of Gaul, bore the name of Agedincum. It was not finally subdued by the Romans till after the defeat of Vercingetorix. On the division of Gaul into seventeen provinces under the emperor Valens, Agedincum became the metropolis of the 4th Lugdunensis. Theatres, circuses, amphitheatres, triumphal arches and aqueducts were all built in the town by the Romans. It was the meeting-point of six great highways. The inhabitants, converted to Christianity by the martyrs Savinian and Potentian, held out against the Alamanni and the Franks in 356, against the Saracens in 731 or 738, and finally against the Normans in 886 - the last having besieged the town for six months. At the beginning of the feudal period Sens was governed by counts, who had become hereditary towards the middle of the 10th century; and the contests of these counts with the archbishops or with their feudal superiors often led to much bloodshed and disaster, until, in 1055, the countship was united to the royal domain. Several councils were held at Sens, notably that of 1140, at which St Bernard and Abelard met. The burgesses in the middle of the 12th century formed themselves into a commune which carried on war against the clergy. This was suppressed by Louis VIII., and restored by Philip Augustus. In the ardour of its Catholicism Sens massacred the Protestants in 1562, and it was one of the first towns to join the League. Henry IV. did not effect his entrance till 1594, and he then deprived the town of its privileges. In 1622 Paris, hitherto suffragan to Sens, was made an archbishopric, and the bishoprics of Chartres, Orleans and Meaux were transferred to the new jurisdiction. In 1791 the archbishopric was reduced to a bishopric of the department of Yonne. Suppressed in 1801, the see was restored in 1817 with the rank of archbishopric. The town was occupied by the Allies in 1814 and by the Germans in 1870-1871.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Sens'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica.​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​s/sens.html. 1910.