A Walk Through Lille Cathedral

Precisely the day before the year ended, I met Darya from the blog Tortore. We had been conspiring to make a joint blog post about the Cathedral of Lille, especially about it’s huge bronze door. Darya had done plenty of research about it and had written a text for me. We agreed to meet at the cathedral so that I could make photos of it. I am so glad to have been able to meet up Darya, she is incredibly interesting and lovely. Oh, and allow me to add, so stylish too…

Lille Cathedral is thought to have been founded in 1066 but was destroyed after the French Revolution, Reconstruction began in 1854. Plans for the cathedral were far more grandly anticipated, but wars along with political problems halted its smooth rebuilding.

Lille cathedral outside

The Lille Cathedral usually provokes a great division in opinions due to its mixture of historical and contemporaneous styles. You either love it or hate it.

Lille Cathedral door

Now, about that bronze door. I’m honoured to have Darya’s words here:

Georges Jeanclos was the pseudonym of Georges Jeankelowitsch. He was born in Paris in 1933 and died in Paris in 1997.

Jeanclos grew up in Paris during the war, and was traumatized by what he saw and went through. He studied art and sculpture at the Beaux-Arts school in Paris in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, then started teaching art, first in Le Mans, and later in Paris. His sculpture is heavily influenced by the Jewish genocide and the Second World War, and more generally by human suffering, Christian spirituality (even though he himself came from a Jewish family), and the notion of tenderness in human relationships (his characters are always embraced in a tender, loving attitude). His work is usually quite peaceful and serene, even when the message is powerful. He himself said of his style that it was heavily influenced by Etruscan statuary and Zen Buddhism. His characters all have smooth faces, bare heads, and their bodies are usually covered with sheets, shrouds, or rags. They all look identical, and are reminiscent of pre-Columbian masks.

Jeanclos created numerous sculptures for churches, such as the doorway of the Saint Ayoul church in Provins, or his very last work, the doorway of the Lille cathedral. It is made of glass and bronze. Inside the church is also a statue of the Virgin Mary, which he didn’t have time to complete.

This doorway is dedicated to the Virgin of the climbing vine (which is a bit strange, considering that the Lille region is better known for its beer and doesn’t even produce wine). On top of the door, in the middle, over a large vine stock, sits the Virgin Mary, represented as a very young girl; her arms are open, and she is holding a cluster of grapes in one hand: she is blessing the people and seems to be inviting them in. All over the door is a crisscross of vine stocks. At some crossing points, Jeanclos has represented “sleepers”, which look like curled up children, while in some other parts, he has sculpted Pietàs: one character – a woman – is holding a lifeless or sleeping person in her arms. All the characters are covered with sheets or rags. They are all either sleeping or praying, and the whole sculpture gives an impression of peace and anguish at the same time.

The work is covered with all sorts of details, such as scrolls of parchment, with Hebrew inscriptions on them; in that way, Jeanclos sought to link the Old and New Covenants. The knots on the vine stocks represent tears. All the characters seem to be young children; it might be due to the fact that they are all sleeping and have the same peaceful faces, but I cannot help thinking of the Jewish children that were killed during World War II when I look at this sculpture.

The reason for my believing these are Jewish children is because of the first sculpture I ever saw by Jeanclos, which is situated in Square Viviani, right across the Seine from the Notre-Dame cathedral, between the Café Panis (don’t ever go there) and the Shakespeare and Company bookstore (which is worth the detour). I don’t know how many thousands of times I passed by this sculpture before actually looking at it. I guess that happens a lot when you live in a place and don’t take notice of the smaller details.

Jeanclos signature

Hebrew inscriptions Lille cathedral

In August of 2012, my friend L. from Austin, TX, came for a visit, and as we strolled through the Square Viviani, she immediately noticed this sculpture, and asked me about it. I had no idea what it was, so we just looked at it, took some pictures, and googled it when we got back home. It was indeed a very moving work, and a surprising one in such a place.

The bronze sculpture stands in the middle of a pretty public garden, with flowers, benches, and the beautiful little Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre church in the background. If you turn your back to the church, you can see the majestic Notre-Dame cathedral on the other side of the river. The sculpture is dedicated to the 5th arrondissement Jewish children who died in deportation. It represents a tree, with knots in the shape of tears, and children embracing each other. These children all have the same expression as the sleepers on the Lille cathedral door. Just a few days later, L. and I got on a train and travelled to Lille. The first thing we did was to go and visit the cathedral, which I thought was mainly interesting because of its huge marble slab on the façade (and it is worth seeing as it is quite an impressive and beautiful sight). But the first thing L. noticed was the bronze door, which was obviously sculpted by the same person as the memorial in Square Viviani. After we visited the cathedral, I tried to find out more about this church and this door, so when Sofia asked me if I would agree to write a short text about it, I was very happy to oblige her, and I hope her readers will enjoy this short summary as much as I enjoyed doing the research.

Jeanclos door

Lille Cathedral door from inside

Lille Cathedral interior

Lille cathedral windows

Lille cathedral roof

candle holders LIlle cathedral

We walked around the cathedral, and let me share a secret, I adore beautiful floors with beautiful tiles. Darya brought to my attention a mosaic in one part of the cathedral which represents different professions. Of course one of my favourite ones was the musician.


However my utmost favourite was the candle maker.

candle maker

Afterwards we were lucky that the sun came out for us for a moment, and I managed to get this shot with the cathedral in the background peeking out from behind the houses.

Lille cathedral in the distance

Then what did us two food bloggers get up to after that? Lunch obviously.

Lunch in Lille

Thank you Darya! Thanks for writing for my blog and for a great day.

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  1. Dalo 2013 2015-01-03 at 23:27

    What an amazing building/cathedral ~ and stunning photography…both great wide-angle shots and also the macro shot ~ you have brought the building to life with both photos and words. What a great day it must have been, cheers to both you and Darya!

    1. Sofia 2015-01-03 at 23:41

      Randy you’re so kind as usual. Hey this is our 1st message for the new year, cheers! 🙂

      1. Dalo 2013 2015-01-03 at 23:47

        🙂 Hey, I am heading out your way…but only for 18 hours. I will be in Bilbao (Navarra) meeting with a factory there. Working with a Chinese company is brutal: visit Paris, Nantes, Milan, Bilbao – each city we stay less than 24 hours. Crazy and depressing 🙂

        1. Sofia 2015-01-03 at 23:52

          Oh nooooo! Indeed, crazy and depressing, damn it! 🙂 Would have loved to meet up..

          1. Dalo 2013 2015-01-04 at 00:05

            Of course, a little revolution there could keep me longer… take over of the airport and all. Although, will not have my camera 🙂

            1. Sofia 2015-01-04 at 00:10

              Oh you missed a good one a few years ago, ALL of the air controllers went on strike so the then prime minister called on the army. You would have loved that one! Oh, yeah, now that I have a better camera but nowhere near as kick ass as yours, I understand how difficult it is to bring it around.

  2. andrewjameswriter 2015-01-03 at 23:44

    Am determined to visit Lille this year and your post has made me want to go even more. I love all the detail in your writing and your photos are great. Thanks!

    1. Sofia 2015-01-03 at 23:59

      Thanks so much Andrew, I’m glad you liked it 🙂 I hope you get to visit Lille soon, the old part is small but very pretty!

  3. Sunny 2015-01-04 at 00:18

    Hey Sofia, thanks for the stunning photos as well as background information. I’ve been to Lille more than once, but I’ve never entered the cathedral! Most of the time I just stand outside and wonder why they left the exterior unfinished but anyways 😉 Glad to see the inside is actually worth a look!

    1. Sofia 2015-01-04 at 00:21

      Oh indeed its worth it inside. Yeah, the exterior looks so weird and unfinished because it has been destroyed and bombed I think…

  4. Darya 2015-01-04 at 09:56

    Oh wow! Dear Sofia, thank you so much for this morning surprise and the lovely words (and compliments 😉 ). Your pictures are really stunning, I really love all the close-up pictures, and the inside pictures turned out so well! (love the candle-makers)
    This was really so much fun, writing about Jeanclos, meeting you, the walk, and the lunch, meeting Mr H and drinking mulled wine. This was so lovely, and great way to end the year. Next time you come, I’ll definitely take you to Wazemmes, hopefully on a market day! xoxo

    1. Darya 2015-01-04 at 10:00

      PS. Of course I meant stalks, not stocks… my mistake!

    2. Amanda 2015-01-06 at 16:31

      What a beautiful piece, ladies! I’ve actually been to that cathedral, when I was 17. I came over from England and that was my first stop with my friend. How beautiful. I love the tile mosaic of the musician. I wish I knew you guys then as it was the days before wikipedia and I was too immature to carry guidebooks. Sounds like you had a great afternoon! I wish I could have been there with you!

      1. Sofia 2015-01-06 at 20:20

        Hey I wish you could have been there too Amanda! I’m still kicking myself for when I was at top of the rock… however, if it makes us both feel better, I was there on a Sunday afternoon. xx

    3. Sofia 2015-01-06 at 20:19

      Yeah I had a wonderful time and I have to thank you again for you help! I always want to drink mulled wine when I’m there but somehow don’t usually get much opportunities to do it so I’m glad I could share some with you! Can’t wait for next time! 🙂 xoxo

  5. catalinadelbosque 2015-01-04 at 10:28

    Lovely photos, and nice to hear a little history. I once went on a coach tour with my mom to Lille, at least the advert sai- Lille, it was actually Tourcoing being passed off as Lille, I was really upset. Yet my mom still insists she’s been to Lille.

    1. Sofia 2015-01-08 at 19:28

      Haha thanks for sharing your story, it’s cute. I don’t think I’ve been to Tourcoing! Is it worth it to visit?

  6. Babeth De Lille 2015-01-04 at 18:16

    living in Lille since a very long time, I don’t know La Treille as well than Daria and you!…..I must go back there soon et have a better look!…..thankyou!

    1. Sofia 2015-01-06 at 20:17

      Indeed you’ll have to go back and have another look, I’m sure you’ll see it differently this time!

  7. Guillermina Stover 2015-01-04 at 23:40

    Such detail, such history, and yes, I would expect this from the ever-interesting and lovely Sofia! Enhorabuena!

    1. Sofia 2015-01-08 at 19:27

      Gracias Guillermina 🙂

  8. The Sicilian Housewife 2015-01-05 at 21:58

    Beautiful and fascinating. Thank you!
    Did Lille produce wine in the past?
    Even Southern England was warm enough to produce wine in Medieval times; apparently the climate has got considerably colder since then.

    1. Darya 2015-01-06 at 08:14

      Yes, Picardy and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais both used to produce wine in the past. In the Middle Ages the wine was used mostly for church purposes, but during the Renaissance, with the development of coastal navigation, it became easy to import wines from the South (which were cheaper to make, and produced more). During the 19th century, with the development of railways, the wine production disappeared completely. There seems to be a new interest in local-wine growing nowadays, but it is still very limited.

      1. Sofia 2015-01-06 at 20:21

        Thank you so much Darya for answering because I had no clue… 🙂 Cheers to both!

        1. The Sicilian Housewife 2015-01-07 at 20:47

          Yes, thanks Darya! V interesting about economics driving the end of wine production in the northern regions.

  9. pianolearner 2015-01-06 at 23:13

    Lovely photos, and a fascinating history from Darya. I especially like the detail in the very first photo, and the lovely blue stained glass windows taken from the inside. 🙂

    1. Sofia 2015-01-07 at 08:39

      I know you like cathedrals 🙂 so I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  10. Kiss & Make-up 2015-01-08 at 14:47

    Beautiful snaps. The architecture is just breathtaking! The photos that you took are already AMAZING and I bet everything looked even more beautiful IRL.

    1. Sofia 2015-01-08 at 19:26

      Oh thanks so much Melissa. I’m glad you enjoyed them and you’ve made me smile 🙂 xx


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