Saint-Etienne Cathedral is situated in the
ancient south-eastern heart of the city of Limoges, in the Bellac
arrondissemont of Haute-Vienne in Limousin. It is a Roman Catholic
cathedral and a designated French national monument, as well as
being the seat of the bishop of Limoges. It is also the city's most
important monument and its only Gothic building. Construction began
in 1273, and continued for centuries, although it was interrupted in
1327 due to a lack of money.
In 1378, the chapel of Saint-Martial
and part of the north transept were built up, and the Romanesque bell tower
was reinforced by an imposing stone. A few years later it was the
turn of the south transept to be completed. After the Hundred Years
War, the first two bays of the nave were built between 1458 and
1499. Between 1516-1541, John Langeac, bishop of Limoges (died
1541), built the transept, while the particularly notable rood loft was
added in 1534.
Also dated to the first half of the sixteenth
century, the Portail de St-Jean was added to the north transept,
with carved doors which carry legends of St Martial and St Stephen.
Construction stopped again with the death of Bishop Langeac and the
three bays of the nave were not fully completed until the second half
of the nineteenth century. In 1888 the nave was finally connected to
the imposing, partly octagonal bell tower, the final stage in the work.
The tower is 62 metres high (205 feet), the three
lower stories being Romanesque and the four upper ones Gothic. Notable
features in the interior are the monuments of three church dignitaries
from the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries round the choir, including
the tomb of Bishop Jean de Langeac which has sculpted scenes
of the Apocalypse, plus the richly decorated rood screen in the
Italian Renaissance style, now moved to the western end of the nave.
The Abbaye de la Règle à Limoges (Abbey of
Saint Mary of the Rule of Limoges) lies behind the cathedral. The
abbey was founded in 817 by the Carolingian king of France, Louis the
Pious (814-840). It belonged to the diocese of Limoges and the province
of Bourges and was formed as a Benedictine abbey of nuns, led by the
abbess who was often an important member of the nobility of Limousin
until the Revolution (1789-1794) swept the old order away.
After 1790 the monastic buildings sheltered a
house of detention, before being almost entirely destroyed in the
eighteenth century. The remainder were removed by 1960. Elements of
the old buildings including carved keystones from the gate were
presented to the Museum of the Bishopric of Limoges. Since then
the refectory has been completely restored, right down to its
vaulted cellars. The location of the old refectory is now occupied
by part of the botanical garden.
All photos on this page kindly contributed by M Kessler.
Sound file by Cedric Peyronnet, released under a Creative Commons
Sampling Plus 1.0 Licence.