Small guide for a spiritual visit

Humans look towards the light to elevate their soul… It might be the masterword of the rib architecture and of the medieval thought. And one goes gradually towards the light : Humans will not be blinded by the light : it comes down to them so long as they go gradually towards it for not hurting humanity but it shines gradually. When one comes in the Cathedral of Bourges, it is like being lifted up from the soil so long as he opens the arms.

 

But before coming in, one must go down to the bottom of the Chevet (also called the lanterns of faith) through the southern side until the eastern side, exactly where the sun rises…
It is also where the building of the edifice started. To obtain equal foundations, the architect made built firstable a low church, whose huge columns had to bear the chancel itself from the new church, which would progressively replaced the first one from Roman Style. It nowadays only remains sidedoorways from it. This is the way the edifice raises from soil to sky with perfect verticals around it. They consist of columns of the low church, on which were built the abutting pillars of the chancel, where the buttresses are hold with relieving arches. These arches are a means to avoid the push of the vaults, a way to be stronger. This gives a pyramidal impression.
Indeed this perfect pyramid, shaped as an equilateral triangle is the sign of divinity. You still have this feeling when you look at it at a few distance. It looks like a huge round pyramid on three levels, more exactly on five floors. Even better, just open the arms, the Trinity let you contain it without hiding anything from itself otherwise what you would discover yourself when you understand its mystery which will be yours.

 

Then you could step back and go to the garden.

The view is thrilling : the Cathedral seems to have been firstable thought from the lower ceilinged bay (the intermediate gallery) conceived surprisingly high and flanked alongside like being hold by a very low gallery. This would let to emphasize its inside nave, which progressively widens towards the chancel and then the height create an impression of immensity. As you know it, there is no transept. It would have broken the rhythm. How many naves will you find in Bourges ? Five ? Three ? Both… It is true, there are five portals in the front, which open on five real naves, like the five floors. But it can be said there are three floors of windows with two intermediary galleries (alternation between light and shadow), that is to say five floors in total. It can be said there are indeed five naves in total but on the horizontal part these five galleries are shared in fact in three spaces : the central nave around which turn the ceilinged bay firstable without interruption and the déambulatoire. An overlap from the “3” (the figure of the Trinity) and the “5” (the figure of the man) which can suggest the unit of the two natures of the Christ : St Etienne is the splendour of the Incarnation. It is true also that this structure is very particular (five naves without any transept) refers to the primitive Roman Basilicas. (St Pierre of Rome built by Constantin ; St Jean of Latran) : the link with the Archbishop of Bourges, primacy of Aquitanian is clearly showed..
After this inside overlook, while being stayed outside (it is the pure truth), you come in the Cathedral through the southern sidedoorway. You cross the huge déambulatoire and you place yourself at the balance of the vault of the side (the photograph represents the northern side).And then when you look at the surprising height of the gallery, you are aware, that it is in and around it that the whole Cathedral is organized. Do we risk to foresee the mystery : the ceilinged bay, which is the bridge between the huge nave and the déambulatoire would it represent the Christ ?

 

Look how are distributed the windows : one is very low in the dark déambulatoire, which might represent the man. Then two windows under the vault of the ceilinged bay : the two natures of Christ, God and the man. Lastly, on the top, under the vault of the big nave, three windows like symbolizing the Trinity, the God where Christ carries the man thanks to the power of the spirit. Like the Christ, it is the ceilinged bay, which gives the ascensionality to the unit. Look when you go along how the light comes directly from the déambulatoire to the ceilinged bay, and then from the ceilinged bay to the nave. It could not be captive in any gallery : all is opened !
Follow this “key” gallery and walk in direction to the entrance door of the big nave under the sideboard of the great organ and… be peaceful… The light shines in all the meanings ! Where you are, all is one, in length, in height, in width. Open the arms like you did in the Chevet and all enters in you : nothing is hidden to you. The perspectives are perfectly reversed : the infinite comes to you whereas all could attract you in its break point. Here, in Bourges, it is never the infinite, which flees you… The depth hollows out in you. The infinite comes to live your finitude. It is the mystery of the Incarnation, so scanned in the Middle Age which appears. It is the possibility of your redemption which is revealed to you. In the axis, over there in the chancel : one window, two, three… Still the opening space at the top, towards the light like a flower. Moreover the stained glass windows bring their colouring to the unit : at the top in the axis, the Virgin with the child (central topic of the Incarnation) and Saint Etienne carrying the model of the Cathedral, that is to say the church of Berry, at the intermediate level Christ resuscitated surrounded with Saint Etienne and Saint Laurent as well as archbishops of Bourges, at the lower level the church working on this earth…
And you walk slowly in the nave… Perhaps not before having thanked for so much beauty. Please seat down at the balance of the vaultkey. It is the last time that six vaults join together to the key. It is called sexpartite vault. Its drawbacks concerning the light, which comes through are largely balanced by its elegant umbrella shape. And what an ascensional umbrella in the chancel ! Another drawback largely made up by the genius architect : we do not see at the first glance the alternation between the large and weak pillars. He managed in order that all the pillars seem identical to be sure the rhythm and unity will not be broken…

 

Now I let you follow your admiration alone. Everywhere nearly the totality of the space appears to you between the forest geometrically columns. The perspectives will surprise you moreover. In such a vastness you will never be lost or crushed : all is organized to let itself contain by your glance, which nearly does not need to seek : there are no corner in the Cathedral. All circulates. We discover Saint Etienne de Bourges with our legs and arms.

 

And if you wish before leaving and coming back, let you containing by coming in the inside chancel, where the church celebrates the mystery of the Saver of all the men…

 

 

Translated from Joël Massip
January 28th 2002