Historical Churches Walking Tour, Bordeaux

Historical Churches Walking Tour (Self Guided), Bordeaux

Once dubbed “The Sleeping Beauty” (La Belle au Bois Dormant), Bordeaux owes its nickname, in large part, to its impossibly beautiful religious architecture. Indeed, given the abundance of historical churches, cathedrals, and basilicas in this city, it's no wonder that a good half of Bordeaux is a UNESCO-listed Heritage Site. Let's delve into the significance of some of them.

The ancient Basilica of Saint Severinus (Basilique Saint-Seurin), dating back to the 11th century, is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, renowned for its stunning crypt, housing the relics of Saint Severinus.

The Church of Our Lady (Eglise Notre-Dame) is a Gothic gem that stands proudly in the heart of Bordeaux. Built throughout the late 17th - early 18th centuries, this sanctuary of peace and reflection leaves a lasting impression.

A testament to Bordeaux's medieval past, the Saint Peter Church (Eglise Saint-Pierre) is a captivating blend of Romanesque and Gothic styles. Its imposing facade and grand interior make it a captivating spot for history enthusiasts and architecture admirers alike.

Still, the prime jewel of Gothic architecture in Bordeaux is the majestic Cathedral of Saint Andrew (Cathedrale Saint-Andre). Its awe-inspiring facade adorned with intricate sculptural detail is richly complemented by the equally grand interior.

Surely, one cannot miss the Basilica of Saint Michael (Basilique Saint-Michel), a striking example of Flamboyant Gothic architecture, towering over the city. Its iconic spire, reaching over 370 feet, dominates Bordeaux's panorama.

Collectively, these historical temples showcase Bordeaux's architectural prowess and attest to its profound spiritual and cultural heritage. If you find yourself in Bordeaux seeking a moment of contemplation or just keen on Christian architecture with skillfully done stonework, make sure to visit these sacred sites. It's well worth it!
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Historical Churches Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Churches Walking Tour
Guide Location: France » Bordeaux (See other walking tours in Bordeaux)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 5
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: alexander
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Basilique Saint-Seurin (Basilica of Saint Severinus)
  • Eglise Notre-Dame (Church of Our Lady)
  • Eglise Saint-Pierre (St. Peter Church)
  • Cathedrale Saint-Andre (Cathedral of St Andrew)
  • Basilique Saint-Michel (Basilica of St. Michael)
Basilique Saint-Seurin (Basilica of Saint Severinus)

1) Basilique Saint-Seurin (Basilica of Saint Severinus)

Situated on the fringe of a public park, in proximity to Place des Martyrs de la Resistance, stands the Basilique Saint-Seurin. Despite its address evoking France's contemporary history, this church stands as one of the oldest structures within the city. Over the course of centuries, it has been expanded and refurbished, with its crypt tracing back to the 6th century, nearly to the origins of Christianity. Its initial construction took place in the era succeeding the Roman Empire, during a time when Christian factions vied for authority over France. Among these factions, the Merovingians, who believed in their direct lineage to Jesus Christ, established dominion over a significant portion of Western France, including Bordeaux. The ancient crypt harbors the marble tombs of numerous Merovingian figures.

Designated as a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site, the Basilique Saint-Seurin stands as one of Bordeaux's most historically significant edifices. Rooted in the Romanesque style, it has been enriched with various Gothic elements over time. Within its nave, one can find chapels originating from the 11th and 14th centuries. As the 15th century unfolded, the church's interior saw the incorporation of extensive Gothic embellishments, encompassing sculptures and keystones. Both the church and its crypt welcome visitors without any admission fee.

Why You Should Visit:
The architecture is a treat to explore with the Romanesque intact.
The stained-glass windows are spectacular, largely 19th century.
The crypt is a surprise with exceptional 6th-century sarcophagi & original chapels.

Outside there is a very interesting archaeological site to explore.
Eglise Notre-Dame (Church of Our Lady)

2) Eglise Notre-Dame (Church of Our Lady)

The Église Notre-Dame stands as an exemplar of Gothic architecture from the 17th century. Situated on Rue Mably within the northern quadrant of the city center, this esteemed edifice has become one of the most renowned structures in the city. Notably, its façade and nomenclature evoke strong parallels with the famed Notre Dame church situated at the heart of Paris. Crafted by the skilled hands of Pierre Duplessy, a distinguished architect and urban designer of the late 17th century, this church has garnered the distinction of being a designated historical treasure.

St. Dominic, the patron saint of the church, is immortalized through a carved figure on the elaborate frontage of the structure, depicted in the act of receiving a rosary from the Virgin Mary. The genesis of the church dates back to the displacement of Dominican Catholics from their convent in 1678, orchestrated to accommodate King Louis XIV's expansion of his palace. Amid a contention with neighboring structures, while searching for unoccupied land within an expanding city, the church was compelled to orient its place of worship towards the east, deviating from the customary westward alignment.

Within the Église Notre-Dame's interior, one encounters an opulent display of Gothic-style ornamentation. This church maintains a regular schedule of masses, and whether one visits during any hour of the day, they will observe local residents and tourists alike, kneeling in prayer within an environment still celebrated for its serenity, despite the consistent influx of tourists.

Why You Should Visit:
The 19th-century paintings on the walls inside are interesting, the large organ and stained glass are quite impressive, but it is the façade, facing into a small, quiet square, that is the real star.

Try to visit during the start of service – no one bothers you and you can stand at the side where the ancient baptismal fountain and chapels are.
Next door is the Cour Mably which used to be the cloister for Notre Dame and is now a venue for temporary exhibitions but still worth a look, partly in its own right but also because you get a good view of the church tower from within the cloister.
Eglise Saint-Pierre (St. Peter Church)

3) Eglise Saint-Pierre (St. Peter Church)

Situated in the heart of Old Bordeaux, the Church of Saint Peter (Église Saint-Pierre) stands as a Medieval architectural gem. Much like other French churches constructed during the 14th and 15th centuries, the Saint-Pierre church boasts distinctive flamboyant Gothic design elements that capture attention. Notably, an intriguing feature is the asymmetrical single square bell tower on the left side as you approach, lending the structure a charmingly off-kilter appearance.

Within the church's interior, a fusion of architectural marvels spanning different eras creates a captivating atmosphere. Adjacent to an intricate Gothic portal stands a luminous white pieta from the 17th century, casting its radiance upon the inner walls of the church.

Enveloping the church is the elegant Place Saint-Pierre, a picturesque square that, in tandem with the church, constitutes the vibrant heart of the historic district of Bordeaux. This district, bearing the name of Saint Peter, offers a window into antiquity. Despite enduring significant destruction during the 18th century, the medieval area has been artfully reconstructed.

The narrow lanes that now occupy the medieval district maintain a timeless allure, each flanked by meticulously preserved townhouses. A curious sight adorns many of these facades – the enigmatic visages known as 'mascarons.' These intricately crafted sculptures served as emblems of affluence for the homeowners, adding to the district's character.

Why You Should Visit:
Undeniably pretty with some unusual adornments externally. Also, as many have observed, it's very peaceful.
Sits in a shady, tranquil, small square that makes you feel you're in the middle of a small town rather than a busy city.
Cathedrale Saint-Andre (Cathedral of St Andrew)

4) Cathedrale Saint-Andre (Cathedral of St Andrew) (must see)

The Saint-André Cathedral, often known simply as Bordeaux Cathedral, is located at Place Bey Berland in the heart of Bordeaux city center. The Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint-André was consecrated in 1096 by Pope Urban II; however, only a wall within the nave remains of the original Romanesque structure. The majority of the building has survived from the 14th & 15th centuries. The cathedral’s famous Royal Gate dates to the early 13th century. The entire building, including the separate bell tower, the Tour Pey Berland, is listed as a French national monument.

The cathedral has played its part in the history of Bordeaux. In 1137, 13 year old Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the region’s most famous historical figures, married Prince Louis VII in the cathedral. Within a few months, they became King & Queen of France, but their marriage was annulled in 1152. Eleanor went on to marry Henry II, a future king of England, and became Queen of England, and mother of King Richard the Lionheart and King John of England.

The cathedral boasts two Gothic towers above the main entrance, in addition to the vertiginous bell tower directly adjacent to the main building. Still an active place of worship, it holds mass each Sunday and is still the seat of the Archbishop of Bordeaux-Bazas – a position once held by Pey Berland, after whom the bell tower and surrounding square are named.

Why You Should Visit:
French cathedrals have grandeur & splendor in abundance, and this one is top of the pile, with well-preserved interior decoration and design.
The bell tower, which stands separate from the cathedral, is also worth pointing out as the views from the top are worth the effort of the climb up.

There is no entry fee, but they do take donations.
If you walk in, make sure you look to the right, to the back and admire the giant organ pipes.
To appreciate the cathedral from a different perspective, climb the Pey Berland tower nearby.
Basilique Saint-Michel (Basilica of St. Michael)

5) Basilique Saint-Michel (Basilica of St. Michael)

Situated on Place Canteloup, a historic square adjacent to the Pont de Pierre bridge, stands the Basilica of Saint-Michel, a Catholic edifice of significance. Erected during the turn of the 15th century, this architectural marvel embodies the Gothic Flamboyant style, showcasing an extraordinary and distinctive design. Its form encompasses a cruciform layout for the main church structure, complemented by a freestanding bell tower.

A true testament to artistic ingenuity, the tower ascends with grace, culminating in an intricately adorned spire that tapers skyward. Remarkably, this tower reaches a height of 114 meters and came into existence subsequent to the construction of the main church, likely within the 15th century. As a result, the Basilica of Saint-Michel claims the coveted title of the tallest structure in the city, proudly holding the position of the second tallest church in the entirety of France.

The tower's commanding elevation renders it visible from various vantage points across Bordeaux, a city characterized by its flat terrain and scarcity of lofty constructions. Regardless of your whereabouts within the city, a pilgrimage toward this iconic landmark proves worthwhile, as the church interior shelters an array of captivating artifacts. Notably, the church's pulpit showcases a vivid depiction of Saint Michael's triumphant defeat of a menacing dragon, while the central stained glass masterpiece boasts the creative touch of Couturat.

Beneath the hallowed grounds of the church rests an ancient cemetery and catacombs, relics hailing from Bordeaux's Roman heritage. These hidden treasures lay dormant until their discovery in 1881, offering a fascinating glimpse into the city's bygone era.

Why You Should Visit:
A gothic extravaganza on the outside, standing clear in the square. Easy to walk around and view from all angles.
Inside is typical except for the marvelous 20th-century windows, some of the best modern stained-glass in Europe.
One of the chapels is given over to information both on the glass in the basilica and on the 'modern masters'.

Sit outside by night in one of the many coffee/wine bars in the square and enjoy the view!

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