Postcard from Bordeaux, France: Cathedral home to royal weddings and horsefeed

Above, Cathedrale-Primatiale Saint-Andre de Bordeaux

It seems as though almost a dozen streets lead directly to the grand plaza surrounding Saint Andre Cathedral, and all are rewarded with stunning views of its portals, the spires topping its bell towers or the adjacent Pey-Berland Tower. Now well disguised by later French Gothic transformations, the original Romanesque church dates to around the year 1000.

This church was the site of the wedding of 13-year-old Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) and the man who not long after their nuptials became king of France, King Louis VII (1120-1180) – making her queen. That marriage wasn’t a happy-ever-after story, and its failure led her to wed a much younger man, Henry of Anjou (1152-1189), who also would make her a queen, but of England. Will not distract you from the cathedral with the fascinating history of how her marriage to Henry II made the Aquitaine region of France part of England for three centuries.

Forget romance, because aside from Eleanor and Henry, few royals were free to choose their spouses. At an early age, kings’ relatives were bartered into marriages that would result in extension or fortifications of their kingdoms’ boundaries. Firmly in the hands of France, the cathedral was the site for another major royal wedding in 1615, that of King Louis XIII (1601-1643) and Anne of Austria (1601-1666), the daughter of King Phillip of Spain. Accompanied by a dowry of 500,000 crowns, Anne had been betrothed to him since she was 11 years old.

One of the things that really struck me in the cathedral was that the interior had segments that were not dull gray stone. Color! Several chapels had the original brightly colored decorations returned. It totally changes the spirit; lessening the severity of the environment seems to alter the entire religion. We read somewhere that even the statues on the outside of the church originally were colorful to attract worshippers. As this cathedral has UNESCO designation, I’m assuming the reintroduction of color has been approved by some of the pickiest experts in the world.

(Okay, anyone who knows this blogger well can guess her thoughts. If this is permitted in France, why can’t the façade of at least one of San Antonio’s missions return to its colorful origins? At any rate, you will see ancient patches of color pop up in photos of church interiors taken throughout this trip.)

The cathedral did not fare well during the French Revolution. Statues were destroyed, and the organ pipes were melted down for ammunition. Nationalized in 1793, the site that once accommodated royal weddings was relegated to serve as an enormous storage facility for grain to feed the horses of the military. After its return to the Catholic Church in 1798, a series of serious restorations were undertaken.

The cornerstone for the Gothic Pey-Berland Tower on the west side of the plaza was laid in 1440. Partially damaged during the revolution, the steeple was reconstructed in 1851, and the gleaming statue of Our Lady of Aquitaine by a Parisian goldsmith was added in 1863.

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