By Jon Catt
Rashi’s home town, Troyes, has completely disappeared except for parts of one church.
There’s no trace left now of buildings from the former Jewish quarter. The
civil and religious buildings from the 11th century have either been demolished or
rebuilt. The last traces of the town’s earliest walls were demolished in the
17th century. We now need the help of historians and archaeologists if we want to
discover what Troyes was like in Rashi’s time.
Troyes was a city already a 1,000 years old when Rashi was born in 1040 C.E. The
Emperor Augustus founded an administrative centre here at the beginning of
the 1st century C.E. called Augustobona, the gift of Augustus. Roman power in Gaul
was in decline in the 4th century and the town changed its name to Civitas
Tricassesium. The Tricasses were the local tribe and the name is said to
mean nice people! It was over the next eight centuries that the name evolved into Troyes.
A Walled Town
The original town had no walls. In the second half of the 3rd century Gaul was
invaded by the Franks. Many of the inhabitants decided to build a new town
sheltered behind hastily built walls. They measured about 4,200 feet and
enclosed an area of about 39 acres.
When you walk past the rear of the Hotel Dieu and up the Rue Linard Gontier
you’ll see the remains of an earth embankment. It served either to
strengthen the walls here or was used to heighten the parapets. The Rue
Boucherat marks the site of one of the two main roads that crossed the town
widthways from north to south. The gate that stood on the site now occupied
partly by the Hotel du Petit Louvre faced a marshy area that protected this
part of the town.
In 887 C.E. Vikings burnt the town and new walls had to be built. These were
the walls that Rashi would have known. One of the last traces of these new
fortifications to survive was the Tour Chapitre. (Angle Rue Linard Gontier
and the Rue de l’Ev?ch?) It was nearly 40 feet tall. The tower was used in
the Middle Ages as the Bishops’ prison. It was demolished in 1817. There is
now an alley here that runs up to the cathedral.
The present cathedral is crowned by a series of radiating chapels. These
were built at the beginning of the 13th century. Their construction required the
demolition of part of the town’s walls. The Bishop’s Gate stood close by
near the Hospital of S Nicolas. In Rashi’s time the waters of the Seine
protected Troyes fortifications here.
In 1968 the Moulin de la Tour was demolished. The sluices still remain.
There may have been a mill here in Rashi’s time. The mill race marks the
site of the earliest moat. We are at the far end of the road that crossed
the town widthways and there would have been a gate here.
Count Robert of Troyes detested the town’s bishop Anségise. He challenged
his control of the town and, probably in 958 C.E. Anségise was sent into
exile. The bishop returned with an army and besieged Troyes. A battle was
fought close to this gate that was won by Robert. The counts were to control
the town for almost four centuries.
The gallo-roman town is embedded in the town that developed in the 12th century and
13th century. We say that this has the shape of a champagne cork. The separation
between the head and body of the cork is made by a now disused canal. The
walls that stood here were protected by the waters of the Vienne.
The Rue de la Cité marks the trace of the main road that crossed the town
from east to west. The gate that stood on the site of the Rue de la Cité was
located at the entrance to the Rue de Paon with one tower on the site of the
chapel of the Hotel Dieu. Legend has it that an important event happened
here which may have still been talked about in Rashi’s time.
In 451C.E. . Atilla lead the last great barbarian invasion of Gaul. He was
defeated by an army that was composed of Roman soldiers and troops from
tribes that had invaded and settled in the country. The site of the Battle
of the Catalaunian Fields ,one of the great battles of history, has never
been accurately located.
When you stand in the Rue de la Cité with your back to the cathedral you’re
facing in the direction of Sens. Local historians suggest that there were
two possible sites along this former Roman road. There’s Montgueux and the
plains beneath this hill and Estissac.
Shut behind their walls the inhabitants of Troyes and refugees must have
followed the results of the invasion with mounting fear. Their protector was
Bishop Lupus. Atilla and his retreating army had to pass Troyes. Legend has
it that it was from the top of this gate that the bishop negotiated with
Atilla. He offered to go as a hostage with the barbarian leader to the Rhine
if he spared the town. Troyes was saved and the bishop was made a saint,
S Loup, after his death in 479 C.E. (Twenty years later France became the
oldest daughter of the catholic church with the baptism of the King of the
Franks, Clovis, in the cathedral in Reims.)
Inside the Walls
The present Hotel Dieu was built in the 18th and 19th centuries. The first hospital was built on this site in
1157.The first Hotel Dieu in France dates to the 7th century. They were always in the
cathedral quarter and under the control of the bishop. Was there one here in
Rashi’s time or was the counts’ hospital the first?
The gate that stood here was known as the Jewery Gate because the Jewish quarter
was situated between the Rue de Paon and the Rue Boucherat. The Jews had
settled in the region in the gallo-roman period. The community here dated to
the 10th century. Facing the gates of the former hospital is a passageway that leads
to a former church, S Frobert.
Legend has it that S Frobert was born in a house on this site in the
7th century. He became a monk and eventually founded the abbey of Montier Le Celle.
Monks built the village of S Andre les Vergers. It is now part of the
suburbs of Troyes. The few remains of this once important abbey stand in
front of a modern clinic.
A man who’d been a Prior at the abbey decided to fight against the
corruption of the Benedictine Order. He became S Robert of Molesme as
this was the place where he founded an abbey in 1074. A second abbey was
founded at Citeaux near Dijon in 1097. A name was needed for S Robert’s
new order and it’s from the Latin for Citeaux that we get Cistercian.
Was there a church here in Rashi’s time or was the church built on the site
of the synagogue after the expulsion of the Jews in the C13th? We don’t
know. The present building is from the 16th century. It was sold at the time of the French
Revolution and was divided into flats.
Rashi lived during the reigns of two counts. Thibaud I who took part in the
Norman invasion of England in 1066 and Hugues. He was the first to
officially take the title of Count of Champagne and make Troyes his
permanent residence. The Jews depended on the protection of the counts and
their quarter stood in the shadow of the chateau.
This was probably built in the bottom right hand corner of the town in the
10th century. It was protected by its own walls and had an entrance through a single
tower. The keep stood close to the town’s walls. It’s site is now partly
occupied by a Protestant Church. It was abandoned by the counts when they
built their new palace close to the Hotel Dieu in the 12th century. The last tower
was demolished in 1862.The square is named after the keep that was known as
the Tour du Roi.
On the far side of the Place de la Tour there’s a large 19th century building that
served as an orphanage. It was on this site in the 9th century that monks from the
nearby abbey of Montiéraimey built a church , S Jean en Châtel, at the
end of the 9th century. There were vineyards behind S Jean at the end of the
We know that Rashi had vines and that wine making was typical of Jewish
communities at this time. France’s wine industry was started and developed
by the different religious establishments. Here in Troyes large quantities
of pips have been discovered during the excavation of wells. There is also
documentary evidence for vines in the town and the suburbs during the Middle
ages. We must remember that this was an important wine making region that
The buildings that stand on the corner of the Rue Mitantier are the much
altered remains of the priory of S Quentin. A women’s abbey had been
founded here in the 7th century. It was made a priory in 1089-90 and a new church
was built. Parts of the walls probably date to the time of Rashi.
The central building of the Fine Arts Museum is all that’s left of the Abbey
of S Loup. The first abbey built outside the walls on the site of a
chapel near the tomb of S Loup had been pillaged by the Vikings in
887 C.E. They moved to the present site after this.
Christians first worshiped in a house on the site of the present cathedral.
It was situated close to the walls and thus made it easy for them to escaped
during times when they were persecuted. A church was built here in around
425 C.E. It was modified several times and enlarged in the 9th century. All that’s now left of the cathedral
Rashi would have known are three stones. You can see them in the present
cathedral on the right after the right arm of the transept.
Two of the distinctive features of the cathedral and the town’s churches are
their stained glass and gargoyles. There would have been little stained
glass in the 11th century and the first gargoyles date only to the 12th century.
The former Bishop’s palace is now the Modern Art Museum. The first palace
was built here in the years following Rashi’s death. It stands in part on
the town’s walls. In the corridor leading to the lecture theatre there’s a
tombstone with a chariot carved on it.
Outside the Walls
When it was decided to build the town’s first walls not all of the
inhabitants re-established behind them. As the centuries passed the external
population grew. Each community had its church.
On the side where we started our investigation of Rashi’s Troyes there’s the
Place S Denis. A church was built here sometime between the 5th and the
The Seine was diverted in the 13th century when new fortifications were built. This
is the reason why the site of the now demolished church of S Aventin
stands close to the banks of the river. A church had been founded here
probably to house the tomb of S Aventin. He had served as almoner to
S Loup and died of natural causes in 563 C.E.
This site was chosen because it was next to the chapel of S Loup. As we’
ve seen an abbey stood on this site until pillaged by the Vikings at the end
of the 9th century.The site remained abandoned throughout Rashi’s lifetime. The
Abbey of S Martin ?s Aire was only constructed here in either 1104 or
If you follow the canal you’ll see shortly on your left S Rémy.
Continue a little further along and you’ll come to the Theatre de Champagne. In front there’s the sculpture dedicated to Rashi. The Jewish cemetery was close by.
St Jean au Marché dates to the 7th century. This church and S Rémy were the
focal points for the Medieval Champagne fairs. Rashi mainly saw their local
There were fairs in the town in the 5th century. In the 11th century they were attended
by Jewish merchants from Reims. Cereals, salt, wine, leather, pepper and
livestock were sold. It’s right at the end of Rashi’s life that an
international component developed. This was the start of building on the
marshy land near the church. In little more than a century it was covered by
the streets we still walk down today.
The Viscount’s castle stood to the right of the present church of saint
Nicolas. A motte and bailey castle probably existed here before the end of
the 10th century. It stood between two important routes to Auxerre and Sens.
In Marseille there were two Jewish communities one depended on the Bishops
and the other on the viscounts; was there a similar situation in Troyes?
There’s the Rue de la Synagogue next to S Pantaleon. One author has
suggested that the original church here replaced a synagogue. The records
for this like the physical evidence of Troyes at the time of Rashi have
The author, Jon Catt, offers tours of Troyes and throughout the Champagne
region and may be contacted by email at Jon.Catt@wanadoo.fr
from the December 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine