St. Etienne is one of the outstanding cathedrals in Europe. One of the interesting things to me was that the cathedral does not dominate the Bourges skyline the way Chartres does. We drove into town and were trying to navigate the narrow streets when I looked down one tiny street and realized there was an immense cathedral at the end of the street, an amazing sight.
You may want binoculars for the stained glass windows which are magnificent.
We soon found parking (by Hotel de Ville) and found ourselves inside the cathedral. It is difficult to get a photo of the front of the cathedral because it is so close to nearby buildings. However, if you walk around the side, there is a wonderful garden and you can get amazing photos from the garden.
Official Web Site of Bourges
Gargoyles are cute and they get great press but they are there for a purpose. We were visiting St. Etienne in Bourges one dark gloomy day and suddenly it sounded as though a river was running past the church. There is no river beside the church so all of us headed to the door to see what was happening.
The heavens had opened and water was descending horizontally from the skies. It was pretty bad for a few minutes and then settled down to a nice solid steady rain. We were all trapped inside the church. I might add that dark skies do nothing for viewing stained glass windows!
We eventually ventured out onto the porch and there was a deluge from the gargoyles. They were put there to divert water from the church walls and that is exactly what they were doing . . . magnificently. You could have taken a shower under this fellow.
It wasn't a great day for touring but it was fun to see that gargoyles really do work, and work very hard when they must.
We were following P signs to find public parking and ended up parked beside Eglise St. Pierre. One goes to Bourges to visit St. Etienne but St. Pierre is also worth a visit. It is on the Route de Compostela and well cared for. There are lovely stained glass windows and some quite well preserved frescoes.
It is an easy walk to Old Town and to the Cathedral.
The tympanum of the central door of the West front is a 13C masterpiece, featuring the Last Judgement. The lowest level (the lintel) depicts the dead rising from their coffins. Above them St. Michael is weighing the souls and dividing them as saved or damned to his right and left. Above this scene sits Christ as Judge surrounded on each side by a pair of Angels bearing the instruments of the Passion. Lateral to them are the pleaders: the Virgin and St. John. On the pier below is a modern replacement of a statue of Jesus.
There are 5 apsidial chapels (the central one is the Lady Chapel). All have stained glass of the 1215-25 period with blue and red colors predominating. Unfortunately we no longer can identify the religious scenes portrayed. Each window (as at Chartres) is embedded in a different geometric array. At the edge of the Lady Chapel are kneeling statues of the Duc and his second wife.
In walking the town , there are many old buildings. We walked past the 15 C church of St.-Pierre -le-Guillard and the timbered Tithe Barn next to the cathedral. In that area there was an Archbishop’s Palace (17C) with a garden behind it said to be laid out by Le Notre.
The private chapel is approached through a gallery with an inverted ship-keel wooden ceiling. The chapel doorways are accoladed and the vaulted ceiling is painted with Angels carrying swirling scrolls. The ceiling ribs descend to finely sculpted corbels.
Many of the rooms have finely worked mantelpieces. Instead of coats of arms or allegorical subjects, the decorations contain windows or houses with the occupants looking out (as on the palace entry). Over one doorway is an exquisite bas-relief of a large galley, the sort of ship that Coeur used in bringing stuffs from the Levant. Instead of tapestries some walls have carved wood panels.
The great hall is large enough to exhibit several treasures such as the remaining pieces of the destroyed tomb of the Duc de Berry created by Jean de Cambrai after 1422. His work is fine but not as great as its prototype by Claus Sluter in Dijon for his brother. (The original gisant is in the Cathedral crypt. See our Tip). The pleurants in this one are to be admired, as is a polychrome Pieta of the period.
From the courtyard one ascends the hexagonal central staircase to the rooms of the first floor which have beamed ceilings. The entries from the stairs to the rooms are finely decorated. The grand hall has an immense fireplace and a minstrel gallery.
Being above the ground the crypt has full windows and a ground level entrance.It also has massive pillars and ogival vaulting. It houses a marble statue of the famous patron of the arts, the Duc de Berry, all that remains of his tomb created by Jean de Cambrai in 1436. for a destroyed chapel. The Duc had the elaborate west central facade window created, which required the extra buttressing beyond the south tower. Also in the crypt are a 15C Deposition and pieces of a well carved Rood screen.
The construction of Bourges Cathedral started in 1195, one year after Chartres. Flying buttresses were now an accepted adjunct to building Gothic cathedral walls. They were first used in 1180 at St.-Germain-des-Pres in Paris on its chevet. By 1195 they had advanced from an emergency strut to a design component. This allowed for even more height and thinner walls than ever before. The loss of bulk encouraged greater size. In Bourges, a new approach appears. The nave has two aisles on each side of it and they continue without interrupting transepts around the choir and chevet as a double ambulatory, creating a smooth simple single unit, like a giant hall. This is a new type of cathedral! The weight of the chevet required support that was provided by first building a massive crypt. This raised the level of the church and so a set of steps and a platform were provided at the west end. The city encroaches beyond a narrow street and there is no parvis. It is impossible to get a ground level (only elevated ones) view that will capture the entire west facade even with special lenses. Most views of the church are thus from the southeast end. The west facade statues were almost all destroyed by the Huguenots in 1562.
The Palace of Jacques Coeur (built 1431-45) still stands. It is very rare example of a Gothic mansion. It is a set of buildings built as an irregular rectangle around a central courtyard. It has a protected entrance on the East side. Access to the 3-4 stories is via tower staircases ranging from decorated hexagonal (the main one) to square or round and plain. There are courtyard galleries designed for business as well as decorations facing the courtyard and attention to comfort and luxury in the rooms. Walk around the entire perimeter to grasp the size and detail. At the entrance note the two blind windows where J. and his wife peer out at their visitors. On the ledge between these, there once stood a statue of J. on horseback.
The interior of the cathedral should be seen as a single immense unit (407 ft. long, 121 ft. high and 135 ft. wide) The are two aisles on each side of the nave. The inner aisle is more than half the nave height . The aisles run continuously around the apse as a double ambulatory. There are no transepts. The wall btween the two aisles contains a low arcade topped by an open tribune and a low clerestory. These shine through the tall innner arcades giving a sort of 5-storey lateral appearance. The organ in the west end is of 1667.
The ceiling height of the first isle is 21.3m and second isle's is 9.3m. The difference of the ceiling height between the first isle and second isle could make the triforium and the clerestory at the second isles as well as at the first isles. It made the windows of the nave, first isle and second isle setback and the space of the nave could have the unique pyramidal space.