An online contest to find France’s most beautiful cathedral has reached the two finalists: Metz and Le Mans. We look at some of the surprising decisions made so far.
The competition organised by tourism website Henoo took 32 of France’s 167 cathedrals and pitted them against each other in an online knockout competition.
Final voting for the winner began on November 28, and with a total of 150,000 votes already cast in previous rounds, the choice between the last two cathedrals will be tight.
You can choose between Metz and Le Mans cathedrals on Henoo’s Facebook page by placing the emoji corresponding to the cathedral in the comment thread.
We have found some of the choices so far surprising! In particular, Albi cathedral, with its somewhat austere exterior built in the aftermath of the Albigensian Crusade was selected over Notre Dame de Paris in the quarter final.
Similarly, the imposing and flamboyant Gothic cathedral of Rouen lost out to the Rayonnant Gothic edifice of Metz.
Of course, cathedrals cannot be judged purely on their architectural merits. Their cultural, historical and religious significance must also play a part in people’s appraisal of them.
Metz also won more votes than a cathedral with incomparable weight in French history: Reims, where the kings were coronated since 916 AD:
One cathedral that lost to Strasbourg in the first round was the 11th Century romanesque Notre-Dame-du-Puy in Puy-en-Velay (Haute-Loire).
It bears more heavily over its town than perhaps any other cathedral in France. Indeed, the cathedral crowns the highest point of the town, the Rocher Corneille, with its soothing coloured volcanic stone facade of Byzantine, Italian and Mozarabic influences.
When the winner of Henoo’s competition is announced on November 29 at 17:00, the prize of media buzz will not matter much for these monuments, nor will it settle the debate of what is France’s most beautiful cathedral, but it could garner some local pride for Metz or Le Mans.
Indeed, that was the hope of Le Mans mayor Stéphane Le Foll, when he declared in July 2023: “We have one of the most beautiful cathedrals in France and it needs to get the attention and recognition it deserves.”