Bourges Cathedral and Jean de Berry

Cathedral of Bourges

Cathedral of Bourges

 

Prior to its name change, the site known today as Bourges Cathedral, Cathédrale de Saint-Étienne, or Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, the property belonged to the Valois Duke Jean de Berry. In plainer terms, Bourges Cathedral once played the role of chapel on part of the duke’s castle and grounds.

Jean de France, Duc de Berry (1340-1416) was the third son of King Jean II the Good of France. He was also the brother of King Charles V. More importantly, however, Jean de Berry is recorded by history as being one of the most invested patrons of the arts in medieval France. He is credited with financing the artistic creations of several varieties of artwork, including the gisaille panels attributed to André Beaunevea as well as Les Trés Riches Heures de Duc de Berry, a famous collection of texts, calendars, prayers, psalms, masses and paintings produced in book format by Paul, Hermann, and Jean Limbourg. In fact, it is Jean de Berry’s image that appears on the January page of the calendar for Les Trés Riches.

It was not, however, the duke’s profound admiration and love for artistic work that contributed to the destruction of his property in Bourges, including his chapel. His position of nobility meant he was not only a well known patron of the arts but a political figure as well. When political stress in the country ran high, Jean de Berry’s properties, of which there were assumed to be no less than seventeen scattered throughout France, became unfortunate targets for expressions of severe dissatisfaction.

Once the property switched hands, evolving from Ducal country estate chapel to pillar of Roman Catholic architectural achievement on a very large scale, the grounds on which Bourges Cathedral now stands became less vulnerable and more venerated. While not every piece of the extensive artwork collection once owned by Jean de Berry could not be salvaged, some are currently housed in the cathedral and serve as constant reminders of the patron who was, at one time, also considered one of the most powerful men in France.

Known today for its architectural impressiveness, as well as a spiritual masterpiece, cultural treasure, and historic monument, the place that was once known as Jean de Berry’s chapel, and more commonly known today as Bourges Cathedral, was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1992.

 

 

 

 

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