Thursday, 21 May 2015

Cathedrale St Etienne, St Stephen Cathedral, Bourges, Loire Valley, France

The Cathedrale St-Etienne is a magnificent early Gothic structure very much on par with its more famous neighbours to the north, Chartres and Notre Dame de Paris.

Listed as a World Heritage Monument by UNESCO in 1992, Bourges Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral in France.
The apse and choir were built between 1195 and 1215 during the first construction campaign.  A second campaign followed, between 1225 and 1260 when the nave and façade were built. Most notably in the design of the cathedral is that it has no transepts, the cross shape found in most churches, which gives the cathedral a unique appearance, both inside and out.  Without the break-up of the transept the visitor is offered a much longer view down the nave, which is made more striking by the height of the ceiling.

There is the use of the flying buttresses to help support the wide structure. However as this was still a relatively new technique of the time the walls of the Cathedral were still made noticeably quite thick, as compared to later structures of the time.  So it is here that you can see the groundwork being laid for cathedrals moving from the thick small windowed structures of the Romanesque to the light and graceful cathedrals of the Gothic Age.

The western façade, is the main entrance and contains the unusual number of 5 portals. The façade over the central portal represents the Last Judgement; this is a masterpiece of 13th century sculpture.   It is a grandiose sculptural depiction where images of Hell swarm with demons and creatures in the torments of despair. The two doorways to the left were restored in the 16th century; the first shows scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.  The second is devoted to life of St William, the first Archbishop of Bourges.  The doorways to the right are dedicated to St Steven, the patron Saint Etienne, and the other to St Ursin, the first bishop of Bourges 

The cathedral of St Etienne de Bourges has one of the most beautiful sets of stained glass in France, made between the 11th and 17th centuries, and is attributed to three different workshops led by anonymous masters, though most of the glass dates from the 13th century, overlapping its creation to the stained-glass windows of Chartres

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