Caiti’s back to tell us more about her discovery day in Bordeaux.
Our first stop was the Église Sainte-Croix (and not St. Michel, which I had written in my last post, oops). A short organ concert/demonstration by a student studying organs (the instrument!) and how to direct a choir (I’m not entirely sure how to say that in English – perhaps ‘conduct’ is better?) was the first thing organised for our group. This sounded a bit dodgy, but it turned out great. We went into the church and straight through a tiny door, up some very windy stairs, and into a small room with where the organist briefly explained the history of the organ, and how it worked.
The organ we saw is the third to have been built in the church. The first sometime in the 16th century, a second smaller and more modest one in 1661, and finally from 1744-1748, the Benedictine monk and organ theoretician Dom François Bedos de Celles built the current organ, now considered one of the greatest classical organs of France. The financing for this project came from selling “de la petite eau minérale de Sainte-Croix” (Saint Croix’s ‘special’ mineral water) which was actually white wine from the château Carbonnieux, then owned by the monks of the abbey.
I’ll spare you most of the technical details (mainly because I don’t remember them…), but the organ has 5 manual and pedal keyboards, 45 stops and 82 ranks, and most impressively, 3596 pipes, the biggest 16 feet, or 4.8m high!
The organ has been through many transformation and modifications, which could have easily lead to its eventual destruction, as was the case for many other pipe organs of the same age. This old instrument even survived being completely taken apart and transferred to the Cathedral Saint-André in 1817, under the orders of Mgr Charles-François d’Aviau Du Bois-de-Sanzay, then Bishop of Bordeaux, swapping place with the cathedral’s own organ.
In the 1960’s, the organ was in a bad state, and it was decided to restore it to its original glory, and its original place in Sainte-Croix. From 1984 to 1996, an extensive restoration took place, guided entirely by Dom Bedos’s 1766 treaty “L’Art du facteur d’orgues” (The Art of the Organ-maker”).
After explaining all this, and showing us some extracts from Dom Bedos’s treaty, our guide turned on the organ, and led us through to the front, where the keyboards were. To get there, we clambered over and under parts of what seemed to be giant bellows, which powered the organ. Round the front, the organist sat himself down at the keyboard and gave a brief explanation of how to play the thing, which involved lots of lever-pulling and complicated terminology. To demonstrate some of the different ‘jeux’ (from what I understood, different combinations of pipes), he played a few short pieces of music. The noise was incredible! I didn’t think to record any of it with my camera until the last few moments, but I did manage to get the short clip below:
We then trooped back downstairs, where we were shown an old iron ring in one of the pillars, near the ground. One of the other group’s guide explained that because the church’s floor had been built up over time, these rings which would have been on each pillar, would have been around shoulder-level. These rings were part of Saint Mommolin‘s miracle cure for ‘les fous’. These poor people would be made to fast for 11 days. They would then be brought here and chained to the walls where the kind St. Mommolin would then, of course, cure them. The guides happily pointed out that no-one ever mentioned whether any of the survivors of this ‘miracle cure’ were cured or not.
The façade of the church is one of its most distinctive and controversial features. Or rather, the restorations by the architect Paul Abadie, between 1860 and 1865 were very controversial. He added a second belltower to the norh side, and modified the entirety of the top half of the façcade, adding “jeux d’arcades”, which are not arcade games but intricate series of arches, eaching sheltering a statue of an apostle. He also replaced the ‘rose gothique’ with a plain window, and added gables, bas-reliefs and replicas of sculptures from various other churches. His final modification was to replace a gothic arch with a by a niche containing a (really awesome) sculpture of Saint George slaying the dragon.
He didn’t however, modify the intricate decorations and sculptures around the main doors. I didn’t spot it, but apparently one of the archways, to the left, represents the sin of greed with a sculpture of a man struggling under the weight of a bulging purse, all while being tormented by a demon, while the archway to the right represents the sin of lust, with 5 representations of a snake biting a woman’s boobs.
Up next, we visit various squares and alleys on our way to the Basilique Saint-Michel. On our way there, we pass through the Place de la Monnoy, which was once a place of much ill-repute: any guesses as to who inhabited this scandalous square?
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