Transbordeur bridges in France and the world 2: focus on Portugalete, Chicago,
The ancient portal [12 metres high and 8 metres wide] shown in this photograph is an anomaly. The porch probably originated in Northern France, having similarities with portals to be found as part of the cathedrals at Chartres, Amiens and Notre-Dame de Paris.
However, this doorway has ended up in a small cathedral in south-west France. As a result, and despite damage through neglect down the centuries, this porch has been practically unaffected by by the awful deterioration seen in much cathedral architecture of northern France, caused by the traffic and industrial pollution in modern times. On the other hand, the small town of Dax and its surrounding area are little industrialised, and the portal was moved inside (probably about a hundred years ago) before the worst pollution started.
Like much mediæval church iconography, this porch revels in the seriously scary stuff of hellfire and damnation. You can even see some of the damned souls being tormented in a cauldron of boiling oil.
Of course, in mediæval times you didn’t switch on the light or pop out to the supermarket; you struggled to survive disease, starvation and war. Indeed, Dax Cathedral was smashed by the English in 1295, to be replaced by a gothic edifice, which in turn was replaced in the late 17th/early 18th century by the present building. I think it probable that this was a West portal incorporated into the gothic building that was begun in the early 14th century, it having been transported from elsewhere.
The mediæval population was mainly illiterate, the stained glass and statuary in churches being the ‘books’ by which the people were taught their culture. The cathedrals were the centre of the community, serving as meeting houses, markets, places of pilgrimage (tourism) , education and much else.
The statuary was usually painted in bright colours, not left as the dull grey or beige stone of Victorian romanticism, fashionable to this day. The floor would slope, enabling easy hosing down after animal markets. Towns vied to build bigger and better cathedrals than their neighbours, often on the local highest point.
French cathedrals were places of life and bustle, a matter of civic pride. Between approximately 1170 and 1270, a great building craze was under way, producing about 80 cathedrals and at least 500 large churches. It is said that this effort took up about one-third of France’s gross national product. Now they remain the glory of France, and one of the great wonders of the world.
I am no expert in architecture, or of stained glass iconography. My main interest, as usual, is as a psychologist and, in the case of stained glass, as a painter. So this introductory area on cathedrals and their stained glass follows my interests, while serving as an general orientation and guide to further study. For further, detailed and more local information, look at the Michelin Green Guide books on France (available in English), and other sources. The Michelin Green Guides have a useful introduction to church architecture, complete with labelled diagrams.
cathedrals – introduction: reading stained glass
gothic cathedral and church construction
Chartres - wonder of the world
history of ugly stained glass: Auch, Bazas, Dreux
Auch cathedral choir and stalls
Rouen and Monet
Dax and church iconography photographs, Dax
Bazas - iconography and architectural styles
Poitiers, neglected masterpiece photographs, Poitiers / photos 2
Angers, heart of the Angevin Empire photographs, Angers
Laon, the midst of the gothic transition, with added oxen photographs, Laon
Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon
Notre Dame of Lausanne
Senlis - how a typical cathedral changes through the ages
Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges - the cathedral of the Pyrenees
Le Mans and Bourges cathedrals - medieval space technology
Lausanne rose window - photo-analysis
cathedrals in Lorraine - the Three Bishoprics
cathedral giants - Amiens and Beauvais
Clermont-Ferrand and Agde - from volcanoes to cathedrals
Germans in France - Arras cathedral
Germans in France - Reims cathedral
Germans in France - St. Quentin cathedral
Germans in France - Noyon cathedral
Germans in France - Cambrai cathedral
Germans in France - Soissons cathedral
cathedral plans, and facts
using metal in gothic cathedral construction
cathedral labyrinths and mazes in France
cathedrals and cloisters of France by Elise Whitlock Rose
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© abelard, 2004, 16 october
the address for this document is http://www.abelard.org/france/cathedrals2-dax.php