Floating down the Rhine from Basel, a medieval bargeman would have seen few monuments of any size. Fishermen and ferries would ply their trade; smoke would rise from forest huts. At Briesach he could admire the grand St. Stephan’s church upon the hill, skirted by that fortress city’s walls. Some vineyards and some fields would show on distant slopes. But mostly he would float, the dark line of the Black Forest rising to the east, the Vosges Mountains its mirror image to the west.
Nearing Strasbourg he would spy a different sight, something angular and unnatural, a dusky smudge erupting up from the plain, the only sign of the great city teeming below. And at last, off the Rhine and through the tollhouse of the river Ill, he would raise his eyes and see that spindly mass of heaven-piercing height, the Cathedral of Our Lady.