No one knows the architect, but whoever he was, he had genius when he designed Cathédrale Saint-Étienne in Bourges at the end of the 12th century.
It took almost 150 years to complete, but the results are stunning. This is a glorious medieval cathedral that gives one cause to doubt that the Dark Ages were all that dark. It retains most of its original stained glass, which dates from about 1215 (around the same time as Chartres Cathedral).
The lineage of Bourges extends well beyond the cathedral period. It was an active city in the last century BC, and was a Roman city after being conquered by Julius Caesar. In the fourteenth century it became the capital of the Duchy of Berry. The future king of France, Charles VII (reigned 1422-1461), sought refuge there in the 1420’s during the Hundred Years’ War. His son, Louis XI, was born there in 1423. And yes, Joan of Arc was there too, in the winter of 1429 – trying to buck up Charles, we assume.
The city is charming on an intimate scale, and we had a lovely day there. We went on one tour whose guide apologized for the fact that the half-timbered buildings were not really original, having been rebuilt after the catastrophic fire of 1487, which erupted on the feast of the Madeleine. One-third of the town was destroyed and the local economy plummeted, and they speak of it as though it were just yesterday.
And now we are in lovely hotel outside of Bourges, enjoying modern conveniences like air-conditioning, where we will stay to play in the pool for a day. Rough life, I know.