If the bell tower of the basilica of Saint-Michel is one of the first visible elements that stand out from the Bordeaux landscape for the visitor passing by train from Paris, fewer are those who venture inside the building.
Built between the fourteenth and sixteenth century under the impetus of Louis XI and the architect Jean Lebas on the site of a former charnel house, the church’s independent bell tower was amputated for many years. A sequence of earthquakes, thunderstorms and hurricanes in the second half of the eighteenth century all took their toll, and it was not until 1869 that it would be rebuilt, in keeping with the Gothic style of the building.
The city which prides itself on having the highest bell tower in the south (115 meters) did not always have this silhouette.
The Saint-Michel basilica was built on the site of a small Carolingian chapel. At the request of the King of France, the papacy established a canon college here. Part of the site was funded by legacies and donations of guilds and brotherhoods of artisans located in the neighbourhood, and to which each of the seventeen chapels are dedicated. The sculptures of the outer tympanums testify to the length of the building period, stretching between flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance style foliage.
Saint-Michel, first classified Historic Monuments in 1846, was elevated to the rank of minor basilica in 1903, before joining the list of Unesco World Heritage sites in 1999, under the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.
Astonishing stained glass windows
While the basilica is a fine example of the Gothic style architecture, the building also houses works of art, a few secrets and some astonishing stained glass windows that ought to convince every visitor to the Saint-Michel district to step inside the sanctuary.