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Bourges Cathedral*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Bourges Cathedral
State Party  France
Type Cultural
Criteria i, iv
Reference 635
Region** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1992  (16th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Bourges Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Bourges) is a cathedral, dedicated to Saint Stephen, located in Bourges, France. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Bourges.

Contents

History

Inside of the Cathedral

The site occupied by the present cathedral, in what was once the northeastern corner of the Gallo-Roman walled city, has been the site of the city's main church at least since Carolingian times and probably since the foundation of the bishopric in the 3rd century. The present Cathedral was built as a replacement for a mid 11th century structure, traces of which survive in the crypt. The date when construction began is unknown, although a document of 1195 recording expenditure on rebuilding works suggests that construction was already underway by that date. The fact that the east end protrudes beyond the line of the Gallo-Roman walls and that royal permission to demolish those walls was only granted in 1183 shows that work on the foundations cannot have started before that date. The main phase of construction is therefore roughly contemporaneous with Chartres Cathedral (begun 1194), some 200 km to the northwest. As with most Early- and High-Gothic cathedrals, the identity of the architect or master-mason is unknown. The choir was in use (though not necessarily complete) by 1214 and the nave was finished by 1255. The building was finally consecrated in 1324. Most of the west façade was finished by 1270, though work on the towers proceeded more slowly, partly due to the unfavourable rock strata beneath the site. Structural problems with the South tower led to the building of the adjoining buttress tower in the mid-14th century. The North tower was completed around the end of the 15th century but collapsed in 1506, destroying the Northern portion of the facade in the process. The North tower and its portal were subsequently rebuilt in a more contemporary style.

Important figures in the life of the cathedral during the 13th century include William of Donjeon who was Archbishop from 1200 until his death in 1209 (and was canonised by the Pope in 1218 as St William of Bourges) as well as his grandson, Philip Berruyer (archbishop 1236-61), who oversaw the later stages of construction.

Following the destruction of much of the Ducal Palace and its chapel during the revolution, the tomb effigy of Duke Jean de Berry was relocated to the Cathedral's crypt, along with some stained glass panels showing standing prophets, which were designed for the chapel by André Beauneveu.

Generally the cathedral suffered far less than some of its peers during the French Wars of Religion and in the Revolution. Its location meant it was also relatively safe from the ravages of both World Wars.

The cathedral was added to the list of the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1992.

Dimensions and structure

The cathedral's nave is 15m wide by 37m high; its arcade is 20m high; the inner aisle is 21.3m and the outer aisle is 9.3m high. The use of flying buttresses was employed to help the structure of the building. However, since this was a fairly new technique, one can easily see the walls were still made quite thick to take the force. Sexpartite vaults are used to span the nave.

Notable features

Bourges is notable for the unity of its design, seen in no other cathedral of the High Gothic era. It features two distinct horseshoe aisles that wrap around a central nave and choir. The inner aisle has a higher vault than the outer aisle, a feature which was copied at Toledo Cathedral and in the choir at Le Mans.[1] Each ambulatory/aisle has its own portal at the west end. The five portal entrance necessitated more careful design to create a more coherent façade. This also eliminated the usual cross-shaped transept design.[2] The gallery is absent; instead the inner aisle has been raised. This gives the cathedral a pyramidal shape under the buttresses. The flying buttresses are very structurally efficient (particularly compared to those at Chartres, which is a contemporary structure) as the steep angle channels the thrust from the nave vaults and from wind loading more directly to the outer buttress piers.

Floorplan of the cathedral

The Great Tower is a copy of one found at the Louvre and symbolizes royal power. The statues on the façade smile at the tympanum of the Last Judgment, welcoming the Judgment of Christ. The Romanesque carved portals from about 1160-70, probably intended for the facade of the earlier cathedral, have been reused on the south and north doors. The profuse ornamentation is reminiscent of Burgundian work.

Bourges Cathedral retains almost all its original ambulatory glass (apart from the axial chapel), dating from about 1215. The iconography used in many of these windows uses typology (such as Old Testament episodes prefiguring events in the life of Christ) and symbolism (such as the pelican who pecks her breast to feed her young on her own blood and the lioness who licks the malformed cub into shape) to communicate theological messages. Other windows show the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, the story of Dives and Lazarus, and the Apocalypse.

References

  1. ^ Bony, Jean (1985). French Gothic Architecture of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, p. 212. University of California Press. ISBN 0520055861.
  2. ^ Marshall, Herbert Menzies, and Marshall, Hester (1907). Cathedral Cities of France, p. 160. London: William Heinemann.

External links

Coordinates: 47°04′55″N 2°23′58″E / 47.08194°N 2.39944°E / 47.08194; 2.39944

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