The city of Bourges lies surrounded by what Stendhal referred to as ‘plains of bitter ugliness’, but it possesses one jewel, the cathedral of St Etienne. It is contemporary with Chartres (begun c.l 195), but very different. Amongst French cathedrals, the design is unique -double aisles, no transepts, and a five-portal west front with a severe Last Judgement above the central doorway.
Viewed from the garden to the SE, the sight is inspiring. The tiny chapels do not interfere with the sweep of the chevet, and the buttressing of the clerestory is so light, so delicate. Enter the airy and awesome interior; stand at the west end, take in the massive vision. High nave arches and tall aisles, combined with the extreme width (about 130 feet), give Bourges a sense of sheer spaciousness. There is less original glass than at Chartres, but what survives is splendid. Walk down the south aisle, admiring the glass in the chapels, particularly a stunning 15th c. Annunciation in the chapel of the financier Jacques Coeur.
Keep walking, to the ambulatory (glazed c.1215-20). Look for the window with the representation of St John’s vision of Christ early in 70ad. Christ has a two-edged sword in his mouth inscribed with the Alpha and Omega [Rev. 1.8]; he stands amidst seven candlesticks representingthe seven churches, with seven stars for the angels of the seven churches in his right hand [Rev. 1.20], and with the scroll sealed with seven seals in his left hand [Rev. 5]. Awesome.
In times of difficulty and trial, remember Christ’s promise: ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’ [John 16.33].
Pray for persecuted Christians, especially in Asia.