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Path: Photos > Photos > Cathedral Cities > Bourges
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Bourges is one of our favourite cities in France. It looks back on a long history and Julius Caesar himself deemed it one of the most beautiful cities in Gaul. This has not changed. The town has a refined air while remaining unpretentious. It has nice timber-framed town-houses and many Renaissance mansions and it is a pleasure to wander through its streets. Life here feels simple, calm and peaceful.

The cathedral is of course the main draw. Built in the 12th and 13th centuries it has five sculptured doorways and two asymmetrical towers. Its interior contains stained-glass windows of the 12th and 13th centuries that are of exceptional beauty.

But there is much to do beside visiting the cathedral: many of the Renaissance palaces have been converted into museums, the centre of town is lively and pleasant, and one should not miss a stroll in the marshes next to the city centre: an area watered by the rivers Oiselle and Yêvre which has been transformed into private gardens.

The west facade of the cathedral with its five portals opening onto the central nave and four parallel side aisles. The Gothic cathedral has been built between the end of the 12th century and the end of the 13th century. It is notable for the simplicity of its plan: there is no transept but double side aisles on each side of the central nave which continue without interruption to morph into a double ambulatory around the choir. The northern tower (left) collapsed in 1506, damaging the two northern portals of the west front. The tower and both portals were rebuilt in the 16th century, hence the different style and height of this part. The five portals from left to right are dedicated to: Saint William, the Virgin Mary, the Last Judgement, Saint Étienne (Stephen in English), patron of the cathedral and Saint Ursinus.
View of the cathedral from the gardens of the Archevêché. The north and south walls are lined with flying buttresses which reach up over the lower aisles to support the upper walls and which made possible the use of large upper windows. They are given additional weight by heavy pinnacles. Small chapels were constructed between a number of the buttresses in later centuries. Tympanum of the central portal depicting the Last Judgement. It was built between 1240 and 1250. Close-up of the Last Judgement. The lower register shows the Resurrection of the Dead, then comes the weighing of the souls which are then directed to Hell on the right or Heaven on the left. Up above Christ sits on his throne surrounded by angels who are carrying the <a target="_blank"  href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arma_Christi">instruments of the Passion</a> (from left to right): the crown of thorn, the cross, the holy lance, the veil of Veronica. Looks like Hell to me… Demons are pushing the Damned into a huge pot fired by flames spouting from the mouth of the monster Leviathan. A bishop is being thrown into the pot where a king (behind the woman) and others are already burning. A toad is biting the bosom of the woman, another one is biting the tongue of a man. And this is Heaven, all happy and seemingly very satisfied with themselves. Abraham receives the souls of children in a kind of apron while the Saved are led into Heaven by Saint Peter and some angels. First in line is a Franciscan friar, then comes a king. Note that the Saved are all clothed whereas the Damned on the previous picture are naked. The portal dedicated to the life of Saint Étienne (Stephen in English), the patron saint of the cathedral. It dates from 1230-1235. The lower register depicts the ordination of Stephen, and the central one the stoning of the saint. Christ the Saviour awaits the new martyr up above. The portal dedicated to the life of Saint Ursinus dates from 1230-1235. It shows scenes of the life of Ursinus, apostle and first bishop of Bourges. The lower register depicts on the right how Ursinus is commanded to carry Stephen's blood in a small casket to the city of Bourges. The left part shows Ursinus beginning to preach in the region of Berry. The central register shows how he converts Léocade, then king of Berry and brings him to build a new church consecrated to Stephen. The upper register shows how Ursinus baptises Léocade and his son Lusor. Detail of the west facade depicting grape harvesting in a series of vignettes dedicated to the life of Noah. Base of a statue. The south portal was originally used by the clergy only. Its tympanum pictures Christ in Majesty surrounded by an ox, an eagle, a winged lion and an angel, the symbols of the four evangelists Luke, John, Mark and Matthew. Below is a frieze representing the twelve apostles. It contains vestiges of the older Romanesque church, particularly six jamb statues which are dating from 1150-60 and were re-used here. Jamb figures on the left of the south portal in pure Romanesque style dating from 1150-60. Romanesque capitals of the jamb figures framing the right side of the south portal. Traces of paint show that the sculptures were once brightly coloured. The north portal. Similarly to the south portal, elements of the early Romanesque cathedral have been re-used here. The tympanum shows the Virgin in Majesty presenting Christ the Child. Annunciation and Visitation to the right, Adoration of the three Magi to the left. View from the central nave. Note how the church has five different elevation levels, three of them broken by windows and allowing plenty of light in the building. One of the side aisles. Colour from the stained-glass windows reflected on the pillars behind the choir. Painting of the Crucifixion in the chapel of Saint John the Baptist. The astronomical clock dating from 1424. It was offered to the people of Bourges by King Charles VII on the occasion of the baptism of his son in the cathedral (the future Louis XI, born in Bourges in 1423). Silver statue of the Virgin with Child. The main altar and the choir behind it. Walking along the double ambulatory. The upper level of stained-glass windows seen from the double ambulatory in the choir. Inside the choir. A feast for the eyes. From left to right: windows dedicated to 1) Lazarus and the rich man, 2) the life of Saint Nicholas, 3) the legend of Maria Magdalena, 4) the relics of Saint Stephen and finally 5) the parable of the good Samaritan. Detail of the window dedicated to the story of <a target="_blank"  href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rich_man_and_Lazarus">Lazarus and the rich man</a>. At the bottom, we can see the masons, donors of this window: they mix mortar, carry stones and building materials. Above from left to right, the rich man orders the construction of a granary and the masons are shown building its walls. Christ speaks to the rich man on the right. Detail of the window dedicated to the life of <a target="_blank"  href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_of_Saragossa">Saint Vincent</a>. From bottom left to top right: Vincent is ordained as a deacon by Saint Valerius - He preaches - Saint Valerius and Vincent are brought to Dacian who commands them to worship idols. Chapel Jacques-Coeur: window of the Annunciation with Saint James the Great and Saint Catherine. Top of the window dedicated to the martyrdoms of Saint Lawrence and Saint Stephen. It displays the various <a target="_blank"  href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arma_Christi">instruments of the Passion</a>. The rose window of the west facade, called Grand Housteau. The life of <a target="_blank"  href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Denis_of_Paris">Saint Denis</a>, the patron saint of France. He was bishop of Paris in the 3rd century and was martyred for his faith by decapitation. After his head was severed, he is said to have picked it up and walked for several miles while still preaching. The basilica of Saint Denis near Paris was built on the spot where he was buried. Detail of the window dedicated to the life of <a target="_blank"  href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_(Genesis)">Joseph</a>. From bottom left to top right: carpenters, coopers and cartwrights at work, they are the donors of the window -  Joseph is sleeping and having a dream - Jacob (his father) sends Joseph to see his brothers - his brothers are plotting against Joseph (they want to sell him as a slave). From left to right, windows dedicated to 1) the Apocalypse, 2) the life of Saint Thomas, 3) the life of Saint James the Great and 4) the life of Saint John the Baptist. Detail of the window dedicated to Saint James the Great and the episode of the Golden Legend which relates how Saint James the Great converted the repentant magician Hermogenes, who had sent demons to vanquish him. Below, we can see the demons (summoned by Hermogenes) setting off to subdue James (red faced on the right). In the middle, the demons change allegiance, bind Hermogenes and bring him to James. Above, we can see James converting Hermogenes and how Hermogenes burns his books of sorcery. Detail of the window dedicated to the life of <a target="_blank"  href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_the_Apostle">Saint Thomas</a>. At the bottom is a representation of a stonecutter, the donors of this window. From left bottom to right top: Gondofurus, King of India orders his provost Abanes to look for an architect - Christ appears and tells Thomas to go with Abanes - Thomas and Abanes at a banquet with the king - Thomas is slapped on the face by a cup-bearer in front of a young Jewish girl. Detail of the window dedicated to the Apocalypse as told in the <a target="_blank"  href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Revelation#Literary_structure">Book of Revelations</a>. Christ in the middle with the seven candlesticks, the seven stars (red in his left hand) and the seven seals. Below on the right is the Virgin with six apostles, on the left Saint Paul is performing baptisms. Above are the seven angels of the seven churches. Detail of the window of the Apocalypse. Christ is revealed to John of Patmos in a vision with a sword coming out of his mouth. It is believed that this sword symbolises the power of Christ's word. Detail of the window depicting the life of <a target="_blank"  href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Lawrence">Saint Lawrence</a>. He is shown distributing money to the poor. But what is Nils Holgersson doing in Bourges? Chapel Tullier: stained glass window of the Virgin with Child with angels playing music above. Timber-framed houses in the Rue Bourbonnoux. Timber-framed house in Place Gordaine. The lively Place Gordaine. The Hôtel Cujas, now housing the <a target="_blank"  href="https://www.ville-bourges.fr/_en/site/culture---leisure_berry-museum">Musée du Berry</a>. It was built at the beginning of the 16th century for an Italian merchant who had settled in Bourges and was later purchased by Jacques Cujas, a famous lawyer and professor at the University of Law in Bourges. The facade of the Palais <a target="_blank"  href="http://www.palais-jacques-coeur.fr/en/#">Jacques-Coeur</a>. Born in Bourges around 1400, <a target="_blank"  href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jacques-Coeur">Jacques-Coeur</a> was a rich merchant with useful financial skills and good connections who eventually ended up as “Grand Argentier” (steward of the royal expenditure and banker of the court) of the king Charles VII. He was an acute businessman, very powerful and used his connections to increase his wealth, making many enemies on the way. Falsely accused of having arranged the poisoning of Agnès Sorel, the mistress of Charles VII, and of having engaged in dishonest speculation, he was arrested in 1451 and condemned to remain in prison until an enormous fine was paid. As he realised that the fine would never be paid, he made an escape and after many adventures eventually arrived in Rome, where the Pope gave him command of a crusade to liberate some Greek islands. He never came back. Jacques Coeur started building his palace in 1443. It was finished in 1453 but by that time Jacques Coeur was already in prison. He escaped in 1454 but never made it back to Bourges, so that he never inhabited his palace. Jacques Coeur leaning out of the window of his Palais. Octogonal tower in the Hôtel des Échevins (aldermen). It was built in 1490 and houses now an <a target="_blank"  href="https://www.ville-bourges.fr/_en/site/culture---leisure_esteve-museum">art museum</a> dedicated to the abstract (and very colourful) paintings of Maurice Estève. The tower hides an external spiral staircase leading to the upper floors. Its elaborate decoration was inspired by the one of Jacques Coeur's Palace: equilateral arches, pinnacles, sculptures of people at false windows. Detail of the tower in the Palais des Échevins: a fake guard keeping watch in front of a false window. Romanesque tympanum of the Porte Saint Ursin (13th century), the remain of a previous church long gone and now standing near the Préfecture. The lower register shows a calendar featuring scenes typical of the month they represent, starting with February on the left. The central register depicts a hunt while the upper one shows fable characters of Aesop. The facade of the Hôtel Lallemant, a renaissance manor built around 1500 by the Lallemant brothers who were in charge of certain municipal and financial affairs and who were closely linked to the artistic circles of the time. It now houses the <a target="_blank"  href="https://www.ville-bourges.fr/_en/site/culture---leisure_museum-decorative-arts">museum of decorative arts</a>. Close-up of the facade of the Hôtel Lallemant, note the mermaid and the little monkey adorning the top corner of the windows. Hôtel Lallemant: sculpture adorning the top corner of a window of the inner courtyard. Hôtel Lallemant: a fool sculpted in the corbel of the corner turret in the inner courtyard.

While researching the cathedral, I came across this website, unfortunately only in French but very informative. You might also want to check this one also in French detailing the stained-glass windows.

Go back to Amiens or go on to Chartres or go up to Cathedral Cities

$updated from: Cathedral Cities.htxt Mon 03 May 2021 16:08:34 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$