My wife and I arrived in Bourges mid-day and looked immediately for a place to have lunch. Most restaurants end lunch service in France by 2pm at the latest, so finding lunch can be a challenge in smaller cities by 1:30. Our hotel, the Best Western Hotel D’Angleterre in Bourges, recommended the Chez Jaques, a little café in the plaza at the end of their street with a few tables outside along the sidewalk. There seemed to be quite a few choices so we decided to try it, and were pleased with the special of the day which was grilled brochettes (skewers) of lamb and vegetables over rice. It was delicious and enjoyed by both of us.
Following lunch, we crossed the street to visit the Palais Jaques Coeur circa 1450, the one-time home of a leading light of Bourges citizenry from the mid-15th Century. The Palace has been restored after centuries as a city building, and provides a great introduction to lifestyles of the rich in 1450.
“A storybook figure. A merchant at the head of a huge network of trading posts, Jacques Cœur was appointed master of the mint to King Charles VII in 1438. He was ennobled in 1441 and became the King’s right-hand man. The palace (1443-1451) is testimony to his rank. Court jealousies led to his arrest in 1451. Escaping from prison, he fled to Rome. He died of disease when leading a Crusade in 1456. Jacques Cœur became a legendary figure and French poet François Villon wrote of his life and deeds.”
The palace is a good example of high Gothic architecture featuring gables decorated with many interesting encrustations. The doors, frames and hardware are restored faithfully and the interiors have been maintained.
Especially notable are the patterned floors and a 17th Century Flemish tapestry depicting the Biblical story of Noah’s ark. As opposed to focusing on the animals and people safe in the ark, it focuses instead on the people left behind.
The following day we spent in shopping and a visit to the Cathedral of Bourges, which began construction in 1195. The Nave was begun in 1255 and was consecrated 1324.
The cathedral’s nave is 49 ft wide by 121 ft high; its arcade is 66 ft high. To compare and picture the sheer height of that ceiling, in our churches today we have held the nave to a maximum of 60 feet because cost increases exponentially when the walls exceed that height.
The cathedral features beautiful flying buttresses at the choir and nave which are used to offset the weight of the roof and vaults. The walls are still relatively thick in comparison with later Gothic work as the technique was still in its infancy.
The plaque above is to honor three priests that were sent out in boats to starve during the French Revolution of 1794. Ever true to their faith, they chose to die instead of renounce their religion. Because of this, John Paul the Second beatified them, as well as ninety-six others, marking them only one step away from sainthood.
The use of Sexpartite vaults to span the nave is a sign of the Cathedral’s place as a Gothic structure as opposed to the quadripartite vaults of earlier Romanesque buildings.
The west wall is the gate to the Heavenly Jerusalem that appears on many Gothic cathedrals in France and England.
The stained glass in the ambulatory is colorful and striking, featuring stories from old and new testaments and dating from the early 1200’s as at Chartres.
The exterior of the Cathedral is as strikingly beautiful as the interior, featuring a garden with precise landscaping and perfect views.
After a little more wandering, we walked around downtown and explored the medieval buildings and city streets of Bourges.
In the evening we walked through the city and saw the light show projected on the west façade. These light shows have become a summer fixture in French cities, with the antique buildings providing the perfect canvas for the spectacle.