Saint-Bruno church in Bordeaux: miasma and trompe l'oeil

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The interior - ©GO69 / CC-BY-SA The interior - ©GO69 / CC-BY-SA
Saint-Bruno church in Bordeaux Parish church

A nice Charterhouse

A Carthusian monks convent was founded in 1583, in Bordeaux. But it needed an extension. That’s good, brother Ambroise, also known as Blaise de Gasc, gave all his money to the convent before he died, for the construction of a monastery and a church dedicated to saint Bruno.

They needed a land, for that! No problem: cardinal de Sourdis, archbishop of Bordeaux since 1599, gave them lands for their foundation. He even launched huge building site in the city: the draining of the swamps in this district! Yes, because Bordeaux was the old Burdigala, literally... "swampy land"!

Aah, a very nice thing, because the stagnant water provoked mortal diseases and fever epidemics. A period chronicler talked about "thick steams" of the swamps, about those "water abyss which prevented people to walk"... you can picture the scene! But this building site was horribly expensive, the city couldn’t afford it.

So, Sourdis paid everything with his own money! Besides, the tradition says that when Mary of Medici came to visit our cardinal, he said he would spend at least 100 000 livres! The queen told him that was lot of money, and that he’ll get nothing in return...

Sourdis answered that at least, maybe he will get God’s glory! In June 1611, prince de Condé Henri II laid the first stone down. The building site lasted 10 years: 20 hectares of drained swamps, 6 000 metres of canals, 30 hectares of uncultivated lands transformed into vineyards... Monks raised a church, a cloister with cells around, a monastery with vast religious buildings.

They laid out nice gardens, meadows, vast alleys planted with trees... In short, the place was gorgeous, the most beautiful one that ever existed in France: they said the charter-house was nicer than the Tuileries palace, in Paris! Poets even wrote poems to honour Sourdis.

The baroque church

What about the church? Well, cardinal de Sourdis consecrated it in 1620. Let’s enter: we immediately notice the trompe l’œil fresco on the vault, painted between 1767 and 1772 by Italian artist Giovanni Antonio Berinzago. This one was geometry teacher in Bordeaux Painting Academy, until the Revolution...

But we also have nice art master pieces, here: near the altar, two marble statues made by Bernini: on the right the Virgin, on the left Gabriel, kneeling down. Here, Marie-Charlotte d'Avaray’s grave, cardinal de Sourdis nephew’s wife. Our cardinal was also buried here...

Ah, don’t forget the cardinal's chest, made by Bernini: it was in the church, but nowadays we can see it at the musée d’Aquitaine in Bordeaux! Here’s for the master pieces. Then... During the Fronde rebellion, everything went wrong: they forget the canals, which became filthy and dirty again. Diseases, let me tell you!

Then, during the French Revolution, monks were expelled, the charterhouse destroyed. They raised the Main Cemetery in 1791, then in 1806 a departmental tree nursery. In 1836 and 1896, church’s frescos, damaged by humidity, were restored by painters Beauregard, Lemeire and Lavigne.


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