Cathedral of Saint-Étienne, Chevet
Cioffi, Paul L., 1928-2004
The Bourges cathedral, along with that of Chartres, is considered one of the first of the 'high gothic' cathedrals because of its great height, its glass-to-stone ratio and the unified, flowing design of its interior space. Nevertheless, the Saint-Étienne architects achieved these ends magnificently in a way unique from the Chartres model. Designed without a transept, Saint-Étienne has double side aisles and a double ambulatory that wrap around the central nave and choir in horseshoe fashion. Moving inward, each of these spaces rises to a greater height, creating a pyramid shape. This tiered arrangement illuminates each area with direct light filtered through stained glass that is nearly all original, dating to the 13th C. On the exterior, flying buttresses carry most of the weight of the building (an engineering technique introduced around 1180), allowing heavy stone walls to be dissolved into curtains of light. These buttresses with their arching struts meet sturdy abutments decorated with open-work pinnacles (whose weight adds downward thrust), giving the powerful engineering a lacey, almost delicate appearance. The present cathedral utilizes the site occupied by an 11th C. cathedral, but with an expanded footprint. Archbishop Henri de Sully (r. 1183-1199) and the cathedral's forty canons decided to build a new church after a fire in the early 1190s damaged the Romanesque one. The first of two major construction phases began in 1195 and continued until 1214. During this period a crypt was built to enable the upper church to be constructed at the desired level (ca. 1195-1205); then the ambulatory with its five small radiating chapels, the apse and the choir were built. The chapels were not in the original plans so there was no foundation laid for them. It seems that an active cult of relics persuaded the canons to require their inclusion. Their weight is borne by piers; above ground, they rest on corbels (visible in this image). A second major building campaign between 1225 and 1255 essentially completed the nave and west facade, although work on the facade towers stretched on until the 16th century. The 'new' Cathédrale Saint-Étienne was finally dedicated May 13, 1324. In 1992 UNESCO named the Bourges Cathedral of Saint-Étienne, dedicated to St. Stephen (first Christian martyr), a World Heritage Site. ca. August 1981
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