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William of Sens, roof figure at the Museum of History of Art, Vienna

William of Sens was a 12th-century French architect, supposed to have been born at Sens, France.[1]

He died at Canterbury[2] on 11 August 1180.[3]

He is referred to in September 1174 as having been the architect who undertook the task of rebuilding the choir of Canterbury cathedral, originally erected by Conrad, the prior of the monastery, and destroyed by fire in that year. William had supposedly worked upon the first major Gothic religious building, the Sens Cathedral near Paris and as such was brought in for his skills in the modern, lighter method of building.

William was an ambitious man, and the monks considered him perhaps a little too proud. He was working on the church when he slipped from the scaffolding. He was badly bruised and nearly died. The monk, Gervase, recorded that perhaps it was "The vengeance of God or the spite of the Devil."

He never was able to work again. He allegedly gave the job to a monk, but he felt that he would be outcast from monastic society and gave it to a man known only as William the Englishman. A BBC television program How to build a Cathedral inferred that he was paralysed after the fall.[4]

He completed the eastern portion of the church, and it was finished in 1184. Viollet-le-Duc believed, from the close analogy between the 12th-century part of Canterbury cathedral and that portion of Sens cathedral constructed about the same time, that the tradition associating the name of William of Sens with Canterbury cathedral was well founded, but he was not able to add very much to our knowledge beyond a statement that William's death occurred within a few years after his return to France. Histories of Canterbury Cathedral refer to him, and all the available information respecting him was subsequently reproduced by Viollet-le-Duc in his work on French architecture and in a monograph on the cathedral at Sens.


  1. ^ Gardner's Art Through The Ages, 11th Edition.
  2. ^ The Dictionary of Architecture - issued by the Architectural Publication Society, 1887, p. 51
  3. ^ Who's Who in British History - Early Medieval England 1066-1272, by Christopher Tyerman.
  4. ^ BBC Four (UK) How to Build a Cathedral, 27 April 2008.