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Bourges Cathedral

Bourges Cathedral

Bourges Cathedral is considered a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, with beautiful decoration. It is also notable for the simplicity of its plan, which did without transepts.

The cathedral was developed as an integral concept in the late 12th and 13th century. It retains most of its original ambulatory glass, which dates from about 1215.

The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Stephen. It was built on the site of a Gallo-Roman church.

Map of Bourges Cathedral


  • Cultural

Community Reviews

Hubert Austria 17.01.16

Bourges Cathedral by Hubert Scharnagl

Bourges was the first of five Gothic cathedrals on the WH list, that we visited on our trip to Northern France in August/September 2015. The others were Chartres, Reims, Amiens, and Paris. Definitely an overrepresented category. But each of them has its special characteristics and it is difficult to decide which is the best and most impressive.

The special architectural feature in Bourges is the floor plan without a transept. The five naves extend without interruption along the entire length of the Cathedral. The effect is a very harmonious and uniform interior, the view along the nave seems to be endless. The homogeneity of the architecture also applies to the exterior. In the side view, the pyramid-like construction with the different heights of the naves is clearly visible. The minus is the west façade, the face of a cathedral. The massive and chunky towers do not really fit to the fine sculptures of the portals. The façade cannot compete in elegance and harmony with other Gothic cathedrals. Moreover, the façade is poorly visible, there is no large square in front of the west portal, the surrounding buildings are very close. The photo is taken from the best possible angle, but I had to stand with my back to the wall.

We visited Bourges on a Sunday morning, when the crypt and the tower are closed. However, I don't think we missed a lot, the town was not so impressive that the view from above seemed very tempting. And there are 400 steps to climb.

All in all, the Bourges Cathedral is an impressive building, especially the atmospheric interior, but I would not rank it among the top three Gothic cathedrals.

Margaret McGovern, United States 23.12.15

Over 50 years ago, my husband and I were driving through France on our honeymoon. Our guidebook recommended seeing Bourges cathedral. And so, we stopped.

It was a sunny mid-morning in August, and when we opened the doors, the cathedral appeared to be empty. Upon looking closer, we saw there was a casket in the middle aisle in front of the main altar and several black-shawled women in the front pews. Suddenly, chant began for the Mass of the Dead.

We did not wish to intrude with sight-seeing on such a solemn occasion, so we found our way up somewhere in the choir lofts. And we marveled at the beauty of the occasion which was completely unexpected. This was why these cathedrals were constructed.

The chant of Dies irae dies illa filled the church, the incense slowly wafted upwards to the lofts, the sun majestically dressed the church with multi-colored lights from its windows. And I started to weep silently at the glory of such a blessing and then to have shared it with the unknown, bereaved family.

It is a memory that is forever green.

Clyde Malta 14.05.13

Bourges Cathedral by Clyde

I visited this WHS in May 2013. The stained glass alone is worth the trip and the WH status! I was positively surprised especially since I thought Chartres' stained glass had no rival. The astronomical clock inside this gothic cathedral is also a highlight and signs claim that it is the oldest one in France.

Anne M., United States 21.04.12

I visited the Bourges Cathedral 20 years ago. It was a stop on our way further south into France. I have never forgotten it. I did not knw anything about the cathedral, and it was funny how it was easy to lose sight of it once in the town. As Stephanie mentions, the stained glass windows, particularly the blue ones behind the altar, are amazing. Something about the ones behind the altar was very special, and I felt my mind relaxing and gently altering as I walked through that space I felt a very different feeling that I have never had before or since and I would love to walk there again. It's such a nice stop to make on any trip. You can light a candle, read your guidebook, say a prayer, have a quiet moment, and, if you are lucky, as we were, you might even hear a gentle choir practicing. When you finish your visit, and meet up with your friends to start traveling again, you will be very happy! Then, when the time is right, you can learn all you like about the cathedral, its, history, the architecture, and the beautiful town. We went to a cafe on the Rue Victor Hugo that we loved,

Frederik Dawson Netherlands 10.06.10

Bourges Cathedral by Frederik Dawson

There was almost no reason to visit Bourges, since the city was quite off the beaten track for normal tourists and the nearby Loire Valley was far more attractive; however, this city had a UNESCO world Heritage site and it was the sole reason to bring me here to admire the beautiful Cathedral of Saint Etienne.

When my train approached to Bourges, I could saw the Cathedral dominating the city skyline like I had seen at Chartres, but when I was in the city itself; surprisingly quite hard to find this big cathedral since it was well hidden behind the rows of old buildings, really easy to bypass this giant without notice it at all! The cathedral was really beautiful, its stained glass windows, vaults, pillars were just all amazing, a real masterpiece, truly one of the great cathedral. Not only was the Cathedral, its formal French garden also lovely and very photogenic.

If Bourges Cathedral was in other country, this place must really be a great tourist attraction, but France was a country with load of beautiful Gothic cathedrals and if seeing Notre-Dame or Saint Chapelle in Paris or the one in Chartres and Amiens or even Strasbourg before, all were WHS, those places definitely made Bourges to be just another nice cathedral for visitors’ opinion.

Since Bourges Cathedral was really beautiful, but this was my sixth WHS Gothic Cathedral I saw in France, I believed this was too much for just one country and all were Gothic! Also these really made me wonder how many more Gothic cathedral I have to visit if I want to “complete” this country and this really made me bored and questioned what the unique of these cathedrals was since I was unable to see it clearly.

Klaus Freisinger Austria 01.08.06

As far as medieval, Gothic cathedrals are concerned, the one at Bourges (St-Etienne) is definitely one of the best, and located as it is in the very pretty town of Bourges, makes a trip there worthwhile, but how many cathedrals should be on the List is a different story...not that many more, I would say. Since Bourges was an important stopover point on the way to Santiago, the cathedral is additionally inscribed on the WH List as part of the "Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France" and gives you two WH sites for a single visit...not too bad, either.

David Berlanda Italy / Czech Republic 05.03.06

Bourges Cathedral by David Berlanda

In our trip to France we have been to the town of Bourges to visit the impressive Cathedral of St. Stephen, a stunning Gothic masterpiece. In the 3rd century there was yet a Christian cult centre in the Roman city of Avaricum, the first Christian community in the Gaul. In the 11th century was constructed a Romanesque church, of which survives a small crypt beneath the present building. In the 12th century were added transepts and the façade but, after some fires, the building was entirely rebuilt from 1195 to 1260; it was also one of the stops on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The façade with high pillars has asymmetric towers: one was built in the 16th century, the other, lower and supported by a pillar, in the 13th century. The portals have tympanums and spires with stunning sculptures and relieves, also representing the Last Judgement. On the sides, that are supported by high buttresses, are two Romanesque portals with sculptures, preceded by porches. The interior, supported by high pillars, has five naves with lateral chapels and a double ambulatory. The incredible stained windows, made between the 13th and the 16th century, are situated on the walls of the main nave, in the lateral chapels, in the ambulatory and its lateral chapels and in the apsidal chapels; the nicest represent apostles, saints, prophets, the Annunciation and red and blue medallions. There are also nice polychrome sculptures, an astronomical clock and two tapestries projected by Raphael. The crypt was constructed in the 12th century on the moat of the Gaul-Roman walls, has a double ambulatory supported by six pillars and contains a tomb sculpture from a big mausoleum, that has been destructed, a sculpture in polychrome stone representing the burial of Christ and fragments of a jubé.

This cathedral is one of the most beautiful monuments I have ever visited because of the quality of the architecture and of the decorations. It's absolutely worth to be visited also because it's the most impressive French cathedral and justifies the inscription.

Photo: Bourges - Cathedral

Stephanie Turney, USA

It goes without saying that this cathedral is an astonishing example of medieval architecture. The 12th (?) century stained glass windows behind the altar were a great surprise to me. I have never seen such a masterful use of color and light. It was a very moving and spiritual experience to see tthese depictions of Christ in stained glass.

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Site Info

Full name: Bourges Cathedral

Unesco ID: 635

Inscribed: 1992

Type: Cultural

Criteria: 1   4  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 1992 - Inscribed 


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108 community members have visited Bourges Cathedral.