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Cathedrals 2b : Bazas
iconography and architectural styles

West rose, Bazas cathedral

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Bazas cathedral, west portal
Bazas cathedral, west portal

Frequently, the sculptures illustrating the Last Judgment are incorporated in the west portal, which faces the setting sun, so to recall the last Judgment at the end of time on Earth.

the dog’s dinner
the cathedral’s main features
west front
the three tympana
floor plan of the cathedral
some background history
 background facts 
end notes

This series of pages is all about gothic cathedrals, but the hodge-podge that is Bazas cathedral started out as a gothic cathedral, and then they stuck a renaissance top on it. This is clear when viewing the cathedral’s west facade.

Both Cambrai and Arras have full renaissance west facades. Senlis and Saint-Denis, and many others, evolved from Romanesque to gothic churches.

related pages:

Dax and church iconography

the dog’s dinner

Bazas cathedral, west facade
Bazas cathedral, west facade

As you can see, the west front of Bazas cathedral is a three-tiered dog’s dinner, with a Renaissance/Baroque upper structure stuck on top of the rose window from 1537, heaped on the 13th century gothic cathedral at the bottom.

I am not very keen on some of this architectural jargon, Renaissance [rebirth] architecture is usually regarded as harking back to Greek and Roman styles, perhaps a reincarnation, rather than a rebirth. The more fussy and complicated a Renaissance building becomes, the more likely the use of the word Baroque.

Remember, my interest in this series of pages is centred around gothic cathedrals, with less interest in the precursor Romanesque style, or the later Renaissance/Baroque changes.

Romanesque church (église de Notre-Dame la Grande, Poitiers) Gothic cathedral (Notre-Dame, Paris)
Romanesque church (Église de Notre-Dame la Grande, Poitiers) Gothic cathedral (Notre-Dame, Paris)
Renaissance cathedral, Arras
Baroque cathedral, (Santiago de Compostela, NW Spain)
Renaissance cathedral, Arras Baroque cathedral, (Santiago de Compostela, NW Spain)

the cathedral’s main features

The main features of interest at Bazas are

  • the west front/facade - a general view is near the head of this page
  • the rayonnant west rose (below)

West rose, Bazas cathedral - interior view
West rose, Bazas cathedral - interior view
the names of the first sixty-four bishops of Bazas, and their years of office,
are written on the the petals.

West rose, Bazas cathedral - exterior view
West rose, Bazas cathedral - exterior view

For more on the stained glass at Bazas cathedral.

The west front dates from the 13th, 16th and 18th centuries, the sculptures from the 13th century.

“For being filled with statues, after the northern plan, these doors excited the special fury of the Huguenots who were inspired by the verse of their new Bible-lore, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." Perhaps in the destruction of the multitudes of statues their fervour was satiated, perhaps they were interrupted, for they spared the tympanum of each door, and we have here, although much worn and broken by time, the Resurrection and the Judgment of the Dead, appropriate scenes from the life of the patron Saint, carvings of the Virgin's life, and Bible stories; and on the pier which divides the central doorway, Saint-John still stands.” [2]

And the real reason was in 1561, local inhabitants saved 13th century sculptures from the Huguenots (Protestants) by paying a ransom of 10,000 écus.

“At Bazas, the builders have used the graceful flying buttress of the north with much more skill and freedom than we find at Lectoure. But with less caution appeared a too jocular, a too gasconnading temerity; and two buttresses, airily ornamented, not only fulfill their normal function, but support a piece of the front wall which would otherwise rise detached and meaningless, unless, in turn, it were built to support the central rose. Above this window again, rises a bit of construction which deserves only to be torn down, as it forms no component part of the whole.[3] It is so obviously of that irresponsible architectural age, the XVII century, that the careful men who succeeded to the task of finishing this large church, must be absolved from this, its crowning defect. [2]

Leaping gargoyle on Bazas cathedral   Leaping gargoyle on Bazas cathedral

“The sides of the Cathedral are ornamented with a double row of gargoyles; and here the modification of the northern style — the acclimation of the animal, as it were, is delightful. For at Paris, at Chartres, or where you will in the Isle de France, the gargoyle is comfort ably perched in his devilish malignity. Here he is truly Gascon, stretching so far beyond the church wall that his claws clutch the stone desperately, leaning far over the street as if ready for the spring, grinning in a significant, personal way, which, for all he is of stone, is quite terrifying.” [2]

To the south side of cathedral, there is a little garden with seats and a view of the precipitous drop, an archeological dig with commentary, and some views of the external cathedral structure, such as the flying buttresses and the gargoyles.

the three tympana



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Central west door typanum of Bazas cathedral, with different scenes labelled
Central west door tympanum of Bazas cathedral, with different scenes labeled

New translation, the Magna Carta

This is the tympanum of the central, main door. The carvings have been much degraded by centuries of attack from the elements.

Here are two details from the Last Judgment row:

On the right a chosen soul (whose head is now gone) being greeted by an angel. To the left is the heavens door, as small as the eye of a needle, symbolising the difficulty in entering heaven. In the doorway is a chosen soul.
[Mt 19-24, Mk 10-25, Lk 13-24]
To the bottom right is the head of the Leviathan, its gaping, fiery jaws bristling with teeth ready to eat damned souls. A demon uses bellows to encourage the flames. On the left, another demon holds a damned soul by the heels to feed him to the Leviathan.
They certainly had a taste for the blood-thirsty, but then they had no cops and robbers on TV.

The tympanum of the right door (as you exit the cathedral) depicts scenes from the life of Saint Peter, while that of the left door shows events in the life of Mary.

Right tympanum at Bazas cathedral : the life of Peter Left tympanum at Bazas cathedral : the life of Mary, mother of Jesus
Right tympanum at Bazas cathedral :
the life of Peter
Left tympanum at Bazas cathedral :
the life of Mary, mother of Jesus

For more information on the components of a west portail.

Floor plan of the cathedral

Floor plan of Bazas cathedral

some background history and information

  • Bazas cathedral started 1233.
  • The cathedral is dedicated to Saint-Jean-Baptiste.
  • Cathedral restored between 1583 and 1635, after religious wars (1578-1605).
  • Classed as a historic monument in 1840.
  • 1998 Added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites, as part of the Chemin de Compostela.
  • West facade altered in 15-16th century, and the 18th century.
  • Cathedral coordinates : N44 25 53.4 E0 12 40.7

  • The town is ramparted, of which some still exists.
  • The economy of Bazas is based on Bazadais cattle, wood industry, metal industry.
  • The nearest motorway is the A65, opened in 2011, which has an exit/sortie at Bazas.
Background facts


approximate population : 4,500
average altitude/elevation : 55 m
(ranging from 34 m to 123 m)

cathedral dimensions
nave length : 80 m
height under vaults : 20 m

end notes

  1. The name Bazas comes from the Latin civitas basatica, City of the Vasates. The town’s historic name was Cossium, a latinisation of the Aquitanian word koiz, or the Gascon word coç, which mean‘burial mound’.

    The inhabitants are called Bazadais.

  2. Cathedrals and cloisters of midland France by Elise Whitlock Rose, 1907

  3. However, recent Michelin tourist guides have it that, “The west front is of an attractive and cohesive design, despite the difference in style of the three stories.” Me, I’m fully in accord with Elise Rose. In those days, at the beginning of the 20th century, people were far more inclined to use their eyes and to tell it as it is, rather than saying vapid things for the tourists. You can better trust those who give it to you straight. I also would like to see the Renaissance top demolished.

  4. 10,000 écus in 1575 was probably worth in the region of $450,000, or about 340,000 € [as at July 2011; calculated using silver at $36/oz, $1.45 to 1€, écu value defined in Henry III ordinance, 31 May 1575, data based on multicollec.net].

  5. The word tympana is the plural of tympanum. Tympanum is a Latin word, and those that end in -um, second declension neuter, decline to -a in the plural.
    Many will remember declining bellum, war:
    Bellum, bellum, bellum, belli, bello, bello
    Bella, bella, bella, bellorum, bellis, bellis.
    Of course, this degenerated in schoolboy/girl fashion to
    B’lum, b’lum, b’lum, b’li, b’lo, b’lo
    B’la, b’la, b’la, b’lorum, b’lis, b’lis!

  6. In all there have been sixty-five bishops of Bazas. The first bishop, Pierre, was appointed in 453, while the last, Jean-Baptiste-Amédée de Gregoire de Saint-Saveur, was bishop from 1746 to 1790.

    In the early twentieth century, Monsigneur Maurice Felton, Archbishop of Bordeaux, had requested a decree through the Holy Constitutional Congregation. This decree was given, at Rome on 20 November 1937, by Pope Pius XI, declaring that the Archbishop of Bordeaux would also have the title of Bishop of Bazas.

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marker cathedrals and cloisters of Franceby Elise Whitlock Rose
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