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Churches of France

Gallery: Churches of Limousin

by Peter Kessler, 13 December 2009

Haute-Vienne Part 1: St-Etienne Cathedral & Abbaye de la Règle à Limoges

Saint-Etienne Cathedral

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.

Saint-Etienne Cathedral

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.

Saint-Etienne Cathedral

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.

Saint-Etienne Cathedral

The tower is 62 metres high, 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.

Abbaye de la Règle à Limoges

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.

Abbaye de la Règle à Limoges

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.



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