We have arrived in Bordeaux, the world’s major wine industry capital. This first week we thought we would concentrate on the many outstanding churches in Bordeaux.
Next week……the Bordeaux Wine Festival!
Bordeaux is located on the Garonne River in southwestern France and it has a history of growing grapes and making wine that dates back to the Romans. Walking the city on our first day it was apparent that prices in general were higher than we found in Valencia, Spain. We have seen many expensive cars on the road and food in the markets, shops and especially restaurants, cost more here; including our morning coffee.
The architecture of almost every building is strikingly different for two countries that grew up next to each other. We thought we may have seen enough churches, but walking into our first church here was an amazing experience. Towering ceilings and massive columns and windows fitted with beautiful stained glass. In contrast to the cathedrals of Valencia, which are beautifully decorated and adorned, the cathedrals of Bordeaux are astonishing in their natural and raw beauty. It was in these cathedrals that we felt we had stepped back in time.
Another difference is that Bordeaux feels cleaner. There is no graffiti in the main city center and surrounds. If you get out a ways you can find graffiti but not anywhere near the amount we saw in Valencia. And while Valencia does a terrific job of cleaning up the trash of the city each evening, in Bordeaux there seems to be less to clean up.
One thing both cities do have in common is the building and renovation that is going on everywhere; a testament to the rising economy of Europe. A striking new addition to Bordeaux’s skyline is the contemporary new museum aptly named La Cité du Vin, ranked 7th best museum in the world by National Geographic.
Which brings us to the next dramatic difference. In Bordeaux there are wine stores everywhere and not just small wine stores; many have hundreds of bottles of wine for sale. Every corner grocery store, fromagerie and butcher shop have small to medium selections of Bordeaux’s finest and every proprietor or clerk is an expert in wine, providing us with excellent suggestions. It is obvious that Bordeaux’s economy is centered around wine and we think that is something to be celebrated.
Each June a world renowned wine festival is celebrated in Bordeaux. An event that takes over the whole waterfront for five days and includes 30 or more tall ships sailing in to the harbor. It is a time of remembering the old days when Bordeaux’s port was full of traders and ships sending wine throughout the world. There was no doubt that we wanted to be here in Bordeaux to participate in this festival.
However, one cannot live on wine alone so we began to explore what else this interesting city offers and we found some spectacular churches.
As we travel, we are learning that UNESCO World Heritage sites are definitely worth a visit. Many of the Cathedrals listed below have been classified as UNESCO sites, others are listed as important and protected historical sites within France.
Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux
The sensational Cathedral of Saint Andrew, commonly referred to as the Bordeaux Cathedral, is the seat of the Archbishop of Bordeaux.
This large Gothic church can be found in the heart of the city. A small part of the interior walls originated from an 11th century cathedral. The cathedral we visited today was rebuilt beginning in the 12th century and is an amazing 800+ years old!
The 66 meter (217 feet) tall cathedral bell tower, named Pey Berland, was built separately from Saint-André Cathedral between 1440 and 1500 to protect the Cathedral from the vibrations of the bells. Prior to a storm in 1617, when the tower lost its upper deck (the nostrum), Pey Berland had actually been the tallest building in Bordeaux.
When the tower was finally completed it had no bell and due to a lack of funds, the church would have to wait another 350 years before they could acquire one. In those interim years the tower was used for housing, storage and at one time even a lead factory. Finally, in 1853, a massive 11 ton bell, the 4th largest in France, was installed and the bell began to toll in the Pey Berland tower.
Basilique of Saint-Michel
The Basilica of Saint-Michel, another breathtaking Gothic cathedral, was built between the end of the 14th century and the 16th century. The separate 114 meter (374 feet) tall tower, built in the 15th century, makes an easy beacon to follow when searching for this cathedral, located in the ancient quarter of Saint-Michel.
The original stained-glass windows were destroyed during bombings in 1940 and have been replaced. We loved the modern glass windows created by the french artist, Max Ingrand. He created dozens of stained glass windows throughout France and the world, including windows in the dome of the Washington Cathedral, in Washington D.C. and St. Dominic’s Church of San Francisco in the USA as well as the windows of the Saint-Etienne church of la Malbaie and Lac-au-Saumon, both in Quebec, Canada.
Saint Eloi Church is a smaller Gothic church built in 1245. This church also shares a wall with the Grosse Cloche. (Big Bell)
Today the Institute of the Good Shepherd, a newer society of apostolic life acknowledged in 2006 by the Vatican, manages this property. This church has an interesting and varied history up to and including the most recent 20 years when it was reopened to the public.
The Grosse Cloche (Large Bell), weighing 7,750 kilos, or 8.5 tons, is one of the oldest belfries in France.
We liked this Latin inscription which is inscribed on the bell.
“I ring the hours and my voice is a call to arms, I sing for happy events and weep for the dead”.
The bell rings the first Sunday of each month at noon and then only six other times a year for major celebrations such as Bastille Day, VE Day and Remembrance Day.
The gateway where the bell is hung also served as a prison and there are many names etched in the prison walls.
The only way currently to visit the Grosse Cloche is to take a tour and ascend the 150+ steps. It is easy though with stops at numerous landings. Our tour guide was well informed and shared many interesting historical antidotes.
The recently restored Basilica of Saint Seurin is one of the oldest churches in Bordeaux. It was built in the 11th century on an ancient burial ground. Evidence of Christian burials from the 4th century have been found here, proving a Christian presence in Bordeaux from this time of antiquity. There was much to photograph in this church including a wonderful old crypt beneath this church.
Today the Museum of Aquitaine also stores and displays pieces from a Basilica that was excavated from beneath this church. There is a tour that descends under the church to view these ruins but we have not taken it.
The Church of Saint Peter was built in the 17th century on the site of the old Gallo-Roman sea port.
We learned there is evidence from as early as the 6th century of an excavation of an early church dedicated to the apostle St Peter. Written records also show that a Roman church existed at the beginning of the Middle Ages.
Later from 1152, when Bordeaux and the entire Acquitane region was ruled by the English, it became the parish for English nobles and merchants, many of whom are buried in the cemetery here.
In the middle of the 14th century, the [current] church was rebuilt on the former site of the Gallo-Roman sea port of ancient Burdigala (the early name for Bordeaux).
In 1882 the interior of he church was re-constructed and in 1908 the exterior of the church underwent an exterior restoration.
Excavated near the church was a magnificent bronze statue of Hercules that is in the Museum of Aquitaine today. It would have decorated the entrance to the ancient, now back-filled, Roman port.
Église Saint-Louis des Chartrons
The church Saint-Louis of Chartrons is a ‘newer’ church, only completed in 1878 although it claims a history as far back as 1383. The district of Chartrons owes its name to the Cistercian monks who, to escape the fighting of the Hundred Years War, arrived in the farming area of Bordeaux in 1383.
In 1626 –
Cardinal François de Sourdis brought the Discalced Carmelites (or barefoot Carmelites) to Bordeaux and helped them to build a monastery.
In 1664 –
King Louis XIV decided to enlarge his Trumpet Castle and so destroyed the monastery.
In 1670 –
The Discalced Carmelites then obtained permission to build a big hospice and a chapel that they consecrated to Our Lady of Salvation.
In 1726 –
A new church replaced the old chapel. It was dedicated to Our Lady of the Visitation.
In 1791 –
By decree the Carmelites were expelled and the parish of Saint Louis in Chartrons was created, soon to be closed…and reopened once more after the Revolution.
In 1875 –
It was decided to demolish the existing church to rebuild a bigger one.
The church Saint-Louis of Chartrons is the ‘newer’ church, only completed in 1878 after this long and troubled history.
One last interesting fact we learned is that the church of Saint-Louis of Chartrons is said to have the largest symphonic organ in the Aquitaine region consisting of over 2800 pipes.
We both thought this was an incredibly striking church.
A good beginning of our explorations of Bordeaux. When you reside in Bordeaux you are called Bordelais. We were told the Bordelais say ‘chin’ instead of cheers. So….
Chin from these Bordelais;
Ted and Julia