Sens (oppidum Senonas), département Yonne, France (région Bourgogne)

L'église Saint Maurice au bord de l'YonneThe Senones were a Gallic people of Gallia Celtica who invaded Italy and seized Rome in 390 BC. They engaged in hostilities with Julius Cæsar, when he tried to appoint them a new king. In 51 B.C. Cæsar mentions Agedincum, their capital at today's Sens (in the gallic territory of the Senones) several times in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico, and the city-centre still retains the skeleton of its Roman street-plan. Agedincum became an administrative center (oppidum Senonas) after the reorganization of the Roman Empire in 375, when it was the chief town of Lugdunensis Quarta.

During its days, Sens has received its fill of invaders, for example, when besieged by the "Northmen." The gigantic Roman walls (reinforced in the 14th century and yet standing in the 19th century) enabled the inhabitants to resist. Yet, Bishop Everard thought it expedient to ransom the city, because no aid was forth coming from anyone in the Kingdom of the Franks. Eventually, the King located in Paris, provided land around Rouen to these raiders. They settled down in today's Normandy region, becoming les Barons français.

The accepted list of bishops does not permit the supposition that an episcopal see existed prior to the second half of the third century or the beginning of the fourth. The legendary first century bishops of Sens (Saints Savinian and Potentian) were not mentioned by early church historiains. In 847 the solemn transfer of their bodies to the church of St.-Pierre le Vif originated the great popular devotion towards them. In 848 Wandelbert of Prüm called them the first patrons of the church at Sens. Ado, in his martyrology published shortly afterwards, speaks of them as envoys of the Apostles and as martyrs.

Among the known bishops of Sens in the fourth century are: Saint Severinus, who was present at the Council of Sardica in 344; Saint Ursicinus (356-387), exiled to Phrygia under Constantius through the influence of the Arians. Saint Ursicinus was visited by Saint Hilary upon his return to Sens after three years of exile. Saint Ursicinus in about 386 founded at Sens the monastery of Sts. Gervasius and Protasius. Saint Ebbo, as first Abbot of St-Pierre le Vif, was the bishop before 711. In 731 he placed himself at the head of his people to compel the Saracens to raise the siege of Sens.

Vénilon (837-865) anointed Charles the Bald (June 6th 843) in the Cathedral of Orléans, to the detriment of the privileges of the Archbishopric of Reims; his chorepiscopus or auxiliary bishop, was Andrade, an author of numerous theological writings -- the poem De Fonte Vitæ -- the Book of Revelations, by which he sought to put an end to the divisions between the sons of Louis the Pious. In 859 Charles the Bald accused Vénilon before the Council of Savonnières of having betrayed him; the matter righted itself, but opinion continued to hold Vénilon guilty and the name of the traitor Ganelon, which occurs in the Chanson de Roland is the a popular corruption of the name Vénilon.

The Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Sens), founded in 972 and rebuilt mid-12th century), is regarded by several archæologists as the most ancient of its style. It was a model for others (such as at Canterbury in England). See At Sens in 1234, Louis (King of France and later Saint) married Marguerite of Provence. In 1241, the modern Dominican Order brought Sens the Crown of Thorns, which St. Louis had obtained from Baldwin II. The sovereign led the procession to within five leagues of Sens, then carried the relic, and with his brother Robert, entered the city barefoot. The Crown of Thorns rested in that metropolitan church until Sainte Chapelle in Paris was built to receive it. Today the Crown of Thorns is kept at Notre-Dame Cathedral, located very close to Sainte-Chapelle church, which is now part of the government complex on the Isle that is the city-centre.

Two of the chief pilgrimages in the Diocese are the tomb of Sainte Columba and the altar of Sts. Savinian and Potentian, which alter (according to tradition) was hewn from the stone upon which St. Savinian fell. The cathedral treasury, one of the richest in antiquities in France, contains a fragment of the True Cross presented by Charlemagne, and the vestments of Thomas Beckett, who spent some time in exile here from Henry II. The treasury of the diocese is now kept at a museum in the adjoining Palais Synodal.

In 327-328 Sainte Helena (the mother of Constantine the Great) made a pilgrimage to the Middle-East to walk in the footsteps of Christ. She initiated the building of several Christian churches on sites she determined to be sacred according to trusted traditions of the area. During her journey Helena discovered the True Cross. Thomas Beckett returned to England after his exile, where he was murdered by rogue supporters of Henry, a martyr for his faith. Beckett became a very popular Saint (and Oscar winning 1964 Hal Wallis production starring Burton and O'Toole -- John Gielgud portrayed King Louis VII of France). Four hundred years in the future, others at Sens were not so saintly-minded, when they acted to perserve the true faith.

What can one say, on April 2, 1562, Catholic forces butchered the Huguenots in the city, one of the first massacres in 36 years of atrocities against Protestants in France, one scene in an ongoing tragedy during which the excesses of both sides drove France from the Gospel with frightening consequences. Le jour est un exemple de la sauvagerie pendant ce temps. On pourrait arguer du fait que c'était le commencement de la haine de n'importe quoi religieux pendant la révolution française. Le 17ème janvier 1562, jeune roi, Charles IX, signe l'Édit de tolérance de Saint-Germain -- -- Le chancelier et la reine mère (la régente Catherine de Médicis) désirent apaiser les tensions religieuses entre les nobles protestants et catholiques. Paradoxalement, cette mesure attise la haine entre les deux communautés, tant il est vrai que l'esprit de tolérance ne dépasse pas le cercle étroit des milieux cultivés. Le Parlement de Paris refuse ainsi de ratifier l'Édit de Janvier. C'est le début des guerres de religion. Elle dureront plus de trente ans.

Forgotten by many in their analysis of the causes of the French Revolution, is the Edict of St. Germain, that recognized all Protestants in France. It really did not resolve the issue to any degree. Within a matter of weeks, the Vassy massacre (March 1, 1562) opened the first religious war, which in fact was a victory for the more influential and most-grand Duke de Guise and a defeat for the conciliatory moves of Catherine, the Regent. The Huguenots soon seized Orléans, then towns along the Rhône and other rivers in the west. Catherine was forced by events to declare that two paths could not co-exist in France. Un roi, une loi, une foi became the catchword, the test of faith as well as loyalty. So, by the summer, events in France (like elsewhere in Europe) had outpaced her January edict, and then you may remember, in Paris St. Germain became the symbol of yet another massacre (August 24, 1572).

But as usual I digress ... Sens today has much to offer someone interested in history or art, if not for a beautiful, classic cathedral and significant museum, then for its setting. A perfect cathedral city with a now-covered market facing the cathedral's entrance. Surviving parish churches and ancillary structures adorn. A river: Yonne has canal access to the rest of France. Sens is close by places, for day trips. It has convenient rail connections for Paris, too. It lies just at the edge of the Burgundy region ("Les Portes de Bourgogne"), so one may explore various vinyards in person.

Villeneuve-sur-Yonne lies less than 10 miles south of Sens (15km) on the eastern bank of the River Yonne. It lies "at the crossroads of Burgundy, Champagne, the Loire and Île-de-France." The city was founded as Villa nova-le-Roi in 1163 by Louis VII of France to protect the kingdom of France at the boundary of the Champagne. It also had a gallo-roman history as part of an extensive farming economy, as well, but Atilla destroyed the area in 451AD. On March 19, 1815, during his return from Elba, Napoleon passed through Villeneuve to cries of "Vive l'Empereur", while the town council already had sworn allegiance to King on March 12th. The Prussians were the last to fully destroy the village in the 1870 (Franco-Prussian) War. The town still possesses two magnificent city-gates.

The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption is of a style and size worthy of a cathedral. It retains features of both the Champagne and Burgundy Schools. The first stone was laid in 1163 by Pope Alexander III, the same year that the first stone of the current Notre Dame de Paris was placed. Chateaubriand, the romantic writer and man of politics stayed here with his friend Joubert a number of times. Indeed many of the chapters of des Martyrs were written in this place. The writer is best known (perhaps) for his Analyse raisonnée de l´histoire de France. Pictures at:

Alas, no classic Bourgogne wine, is grown just outside Sens. That produit is centered upriver (south), below Auxerre (Yonne) and Chablis (Serein) -- and further southeast below Dijon (mustard capital of the known universe) along the Saône going into Lyon. see Map HERE Of course, Orléans and the upper reaches of the Loire are almost just as close -- Touraine, Sancerre, Vouvray.

office du tourisme Sens -- un petit tour dans la ville de Sens -- carte du Cité-centre

Metz -- Belfort -- Reims (Champagne) -- Colmar -- Mulhouse -- le Saint-Suaire -- Lörrach {sister city of Sens} -- Avignon -- Nice -- Narbonne -- Strasbourg -- Troyes -- Auxerre, Chablis & Dijon -- Bourges, Sancerre & Nevers -- Chartres -- Paris -- Mâcon

Celtic/Frank History -- Germaniæ Historicæ -- Anglo Saxons -- Reformation from a French-Protestant point of view

Pau -- Bayonne -- Orléans -- Bordeaux -- Nantes -- Poitiers -- Île de Ré, La Roche-sur-Yon, LaRochelle, Rochefort, Saintes & Royan -- Tours -- Caen, Rouen & Rennes -- Amboise, Loches, Chinon et Louden

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