Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 15, 2007
Tomb of Bordeaux basilica's patron steeped in antiquity
Pilgrims attribute miraculous healings to St. Seurin
St. Seurin – October 21
By TED FITZGERALD
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
Bordeaux's Basilica Saint-Seurin
By the sixth century, an oratory had been built on the site to replace an earlier chapel and this became the crypt of an 11th century church, rebuilt in the 16th century. The bishops' tombs continued to attract pilgrims, particularly in the Middle Ages when Bordeaux became a major stopping place for those undertaking the important pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in western Spain.
The present structure dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. Like many early churches, Saint-Seurin has a complex history of rebuilding, additions and alterations that leave its story a complex subject in itself.
Visitors approaching the church are welcomed by life-size statues of Bishops Amand and Seurin occupying niches in the relatively new, 1828 fa‡ade. Inside, and hidden by the west front, is the 11th century porch that, with the square tower above, are the oldest parts of the building.
The long nave is flanked by a series of chapels of a variety of sizes, shapes and ages dedicated to, for example, Our Lady of Good Tidings, Saint-Fort, the Sacred Heart and Saint-Martial. Naturally though, the focus of any visit here is the main altar which contains the fifth century sarcophagus of the basilica patron.
Almost mandatory, a visit to the famous crypt, centred beneath the asymmetric transepts is an experience not to be missed. Here, in an atmosphere heavy with antiquity - people offer prayers to the saint beside his original tomb, surrounded by carved sarcophagi and funeral structures dating from Roman times.
This is where the story of Seurin begins and his presence can almost be sensed in the silence of the stony sanctuary. This is actually a part of the old oratory buried by the raising of the ground level beneath the present church.
For some, the high point of a visit to the basilica will be attendance at the celebration of the Eucharist at an impressive Sunday evening sung Mass. They may join with hundreds crowding the spacious nave to share their prayers and participation in a scene that belies the commonly held belief that church attendance is at an all-time low.
If the timing is not convenient, the faithful have a choice of several other weekend and daily Masses in the great church, second in importance only to Bordeaux's Saint-Andre Cathedral.
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