The magnificent Troyes Cathedral is in good company with the great cathedrals of the cities of Central France, and for this it can be somewhat overlooked. It does not have a long association as a pilgrimage cathedral. Its primary relic, that of Bernard of Clairvaux, was not interred here until the late 18th century; and it is not located along the major pilgrim roads. That said, it did enjoy some fascinating moments in history, including being the location where the Order of the Templars was formally recognized. However, it is now home to two major reliquaries, Bernard’s and that of Malachy of Ireland, which do draw visitors.
Bernard of Clairvaux was one of the towering figures of the Church at the height of the Middle Ages. His importance was as much political as it was religious. He is one of a handful of people to have been designated as a Doctor of the Church, and his work made a profound impact on the history of both Christian Europe and the Holy Land. Most of his early religious life was spent as a member of the Cistercians, a Benedictine order of monks, and he founded the Abbey at Clairvaux and later served as its abbot. By the time he was forty, he was so well-known and respected in the Christian community that he was personally called upon to arbitrate a dispute between two major Church factions.
Bernard was perhaps known for his involvement with Crusade-related activities. In 1129, he helped the recently formed Knights Templar to prepare a Rule of Order and personally championed their petition for recognition by the Papacy at the Council of Troyes. A few years later in Vezelay, at the behest of the Church, Bernard preached the Second Crusade. He then traveled from France to Germany, seeking support for the new venture. By the time he was finished, nobles and commoners from across Europe were marching off to the Holy land. Bernard personally bestowed a cross upon the Holy Roman Emperor.
Throughout his busy life, Bernard always remained active with the abbey that he had founded in Clairvaux. He was active there until his death in 1153. His remains were kept at the abbey until the 18th century, when the local order was disbanded by forces of the French Revolution. Bernard’s relic was subsequently removed to Troyes Cathedral. Sadly, little now remains of the abbey; a high security prison now stands in its place.
The Cathedral of Troyes was closely connected with the life of Bernard. Several churches and cathedrals have stood on the site since the 4th century. It was in one that was constructed in the 10th century that the Council of Troyes was held, and where Bernard supported the Templar cause. However, the cathedral was destroyed shortly thereafter in a fire. The current structure dates from the 13th century, the work continued for many years after. The reliquary of Bernard of Clairvaux was placed in the cathedral in 1792.
Troyes Cathedral is one of the great Gothic cathedrals of Central France. The current structure was largely completed in the 13th century, though elements date from nearly 400 years later. Technically, one of the bell towers is incomplete and the church remains unfinished. Despite the missing bell tower, and a missing steeple that was destroyed and never rebuilt, the church exterior is impressive and features a magnificent façade which was completed in the 16th century at the height of the Renaissance.
Like most major cathedrals in France, Troyes is famous for its stunning stained glass, including a traditional French Rose window. After the cathedral was miraculously spared the ravages of the French Revolution, the relic of Bernard of Clairvaux was moved here and is now on public display. Also here is the tomb of his close associate Malachy of Ireland, who died in Troyes while enroute to Rome on pilgrimage.
Troyes Cathedral is located in the center of the city, approximately ninety miles southeast of Paris. It is open daily from 10:00am-6:00pm (closed for lunch 1:00pm-2:00pm; early closings on Sundays and holidays). There is no charge for admission. Web: http://en.tourisme-troyes.com (official tourism website of Troyes)
Troyes does enjoy its share of churches, with the Basilica of St. Urbain and the Church of St. Madeleine among the most popular. In Clairvaux, some of the ruins of the Abbey of Clairvaux may be open to visitors, but there was no information as of this time.