Cathedral of Saint-Étienne, Nave Exterior South Wall Looking East
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.By the end of the second phase of construction (ca. 1225-1255), the main structures of the nave and west facade were essentially complete. Although some modifications to the first architect's plans were made over the course of decades of work, the two subsequent master architects-all three names are lost to history-proceeded with sensitivity and respect for the original concept. Respect for the past is also evident in the two lateral entrances. Tympana above the north and the south side portals of the cathedral (opening into the nave outer aisles) incorporate sculpture that had been carefully saved from the Romanesque cathedral. (The exterior of the south porch is visible in this picture, but the portal and its tympanum are sheltered from view.) Much of this second building phase took place during the time that Philip Berruyer was archbishop of Bourges (r. 1236-1261). 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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