As far as we know, the Cathedral we see today at Sées is the fourth or fifth place of Christian worship to be built on the site. Work on the current building was probably started in 1210, on the assumption that the foundations of its predecessors would be adequate to support a much larger building, an error of judgement that has been at the root of major problems over the ensuing centuries. The Cathedral suffered damage in the Hundred Years’ War, and in the 15th and 16th centuries, buttresses were added on the West front to support the two towers. In the 18th century, the architect Joseph Brousseau built extra buttresses which still failed to stabilise the building. Then in the 19th century the architect Victor Ruprich-Robert took the courageous decision to dismantle the choir and the transepts and sink 8-metre deep foundations, thus saving the Cathedral from almost certain ruin. The West front was further encumbered with heavy buttressing to shore up the towers and support the spires – which themselves had to be completely rebuilt in 1978.
As far as we know, no information survives about the bells that were in the Cathedral before the French Revolution, and it is quite likely that they, along with many others, were melted down to make cannons. A completely new set of bells was installed in the 19th century, and these remain to this day, in three separate groups. The main group, in the South tower, comprises the bells that strike the hour and ring for services. The second group, in the North tower, comprises three smaller bells, which, although designed to ring as a peal, have been out of action for many years and have never been adapted for electric power ; as a result, they are never heard and the overall state of their mounting is cause for considerable concern. The last group comprises two bells located on the roof ridge between the two towers ; these were the strike mechanism of the old mechanical clock which is no longer in service.
1) DRAC inspection
The Cathedral has been the property of the French state since 1905, hence it was the regional Department of Culture (DRAC) that commissioned a « general inspection of the Cathedral’s bells and their structures » to be undertaken on site by Hervé Gouriou in the spring of 2014. As far as the North belfry was concerned, the inspection concluded that « the current state of the belfry is such that its repair and long-term safety are not economically viable ». DRAC’s subsequent review of the risks to the safety of the building revealed that the belfry had suffered weather-damage, that its condition was deteriorating and that the supporting beams had been considerably weakened to the extent that the entire structure was in danger of collapse – which would cause severe damage to the North tower and potential human casualties.
2) The work plan
The decision was taken to replace the belfry structure and to protect it against future weather damage, leaving the question of the bells to be resolved. There are currently three bells in the belfry : the heaviest, Augustine Adelaide, weighs 300 kilos and dates from 1825 ; the second, whose name is not known, weighs 220 kilos and dates from 1837, and the third, dating from 1825, weighs 170 kilos and is called Marie Gabriel Henriette. They were never tuned to the same pitch as the bells in the South tower, probably because they were not designed to be rung at the same time ; in addition, the quality of their sound, as far as we can tell from expert analysis, is not good : they are dissonant and out of tune, with a degree of wear and tear that threatens their survival. Several options were considered :
This last option is the one that was chosen. It was felt that if Sées Cathedral was to make its mark in the history of the 21st century, it was essential to give it a peal of six harmonised bells, in spite of the challenge of finding the necessary funding.
The Friends of Sées Cathedral are giving this project their full support. We are working with the Diocese and government agencies, primarily to raise the necessary finance to purchase the three bells.
f you would like to support the project for the Cathedral’s new bells, you can make a donation by cheque. Any amount, however modest, will be welcome.
Tax deduction: If you pay income tax in France, you will receive a receipt for your donation at the beginning of 2016. You will be able to claim 66 per cent of your donation (up to a maximum of 20 per cent of your total income tax).
If you pay French ISF (wealth tax), you will be able to claim a 75 per cent reduction, up to a maximum of €50,000.
Cheques should be made payable to “Fondation du Patrimoine de Sées”.
Send your cheque to:
Amis de la Cathédrale de Sées,
20 rue Conté 61500 Sées.