Approaching Bourges from the west, the city is overshadowed by the great bulk of this massive gothic building. It’s an old favourite that we have visited a number of times on our way through France. Friend Alf had introduced me to it when he was just ‘plus de soixante ans’ and got his first age-related reduction in climbing the tower.
The apparent thick walls and large number of flying buttresses visible externally are testimony to the massive engineering needed for a building of this scale.
As we entered the nave, I was immediately drawn upward by the sheer height of this soaring gothic space – 37m high by 15m wide. This, I believe, was the intention of these spaces, drawing you ever upward into the higher mental/ spiritual areas of the mind, away from the the concerns of the day-to-day ‘monkey mind’. Towards that ‘clerestory’ level of the top windows of clear light, symbolising the clear inner light of spirit.
There are two side aisles, the inner aisle having similar upward drawing qualities, being rather narrow but still 21m high. The overall effect of these two and the nave is for me the most special characteristic of this particular gothic masterpiece.
Around the ambulatory at the back of the choir are some magnificent stained glass windows, reminiscent of those at the roughly contemporary Chartres cathedral, but here more predominantly red than the blues of Chartres.
There is a combined ticket for a guided tour of the crypt and climbing the tower, but sadly no longer any reduction for ‘plus de soixante ans’. The large crypt contains stonework defaced and broken during the wars of religion and the revolution – in common with many religious buildings. Alf was always amused by the human buttocks that were carved into one of the pillars down here, opposite an image of a rather shocked face on the other side – unusual humour in one of these deeply religious buildings.
Despite its height of nearly 400 steps, the climb of the tower is relatively easy – even Alf made it with his damaged knees. The steps are wide compared to many, so there is not that tight enclosed feeling, with adequate space for passing anyone going the other way. Surprisingly, the view from the top, over rooftops and the surrounding countryside, is little changed over the past 27 years.
Yes, we’ll definitely visit again when we’re in the area.