The great ambitions of the Saint-Seurin Basilica

Located in Bordeaux, the Saint-Seurin Basilica is a privileged witness to sixteen centuries of history, culture and worship. But the historical and artistic treasures of this site have long remained in the shadows. “The Saint-Seurin site is seen as a parish church like any other. Few locals know that the Basilica houses the relics of Saint Delphin, Saint Amand and Saint Seurin, the first bishops of Bordeaux”explains Luc Bonnin, president of the Association of Friends of the Basilica, during the site visit.

The association, founded in 2014, is dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the religious building, to make it a dynamic and lively place. After reopening the crypt in 2015, commissioning a statue of Bishop Saint Seurin in 2019, as well as a marble reliquary for Saint Amand in 2021 from Augustin Frison-Roche, and restoring more than forty paintings in 2022, the association is now engaged in a donation campaign with major donors, individual private patrons or companies, in order to raise 2.9 million euros, which will supplement the public funding already obtained or to come, for the implementation of the project Basilica.

The objective of this project is to resocialize the Basilica with new uses in order to make it a place of reception and transmission of a sacred heritage. Each year, the Basilica receives around 55,000 visitors, but there is currently no visitor center. The first stage of the project is therefore to create a reception area, estimated at 70,000 euros, which will serve as the starting point for the visit.

The tour, whose creation cost is estimated at 300,000 euros, will be accompanied by a headset that will broadcast binaural sound “to tell the little story of Saint Seurin in the great history of Christianity”, explains Luc Bonnin. The guided visit in nine stages will begin with the crypt which houses the tombs of several saints and evangelizers. The visitor will be guided by sound and light through 1,600 years of history, illustrated by anecdotes such as the visit of Charlemagne, who would have buried his soldiers there on the Saint-Seurin site, which would itself have hosted the Olifant of Roland.

To complete the route, the lighting will be completely revised in order to highlight the works present in the Basilica. The current lighting does not sufficiently enhance these works, whose paintings are almost invisible, plunged into darkness, while the episcopal pulpit and the alabasters are hidden in the half-light. THE “light map”estimated at 300,000 euros, includes an intelligent digital control room and low-consumption lighting. “The whole must represent a stable economic ecosystem that does not depend on public money”, emphasizes Luc Bonnin. Thus, the entrance to the visit route will be set at 8 euros.

The last part of the Basilica project is the creation of the Maison Saint-Seurin, expected in 2026. Estimated at 1.7 million euros, the house will be a multipurpose space hosting various cultural, parish and social activities. “For 1,600 years, the Saint-Seurin Basilica has been a place of artistic creation. » To perpetuate this tradition, the house will also be an artistic center dedicated to sacred art. It will receive artists in residence and events. It will host a Biennial of Sacred Art, the first edition of which will be held in the spring of 2024. “We could also imagine a square of excavations. Under the concrete slabs, we know that there are graves »imagines Luc Bonnin.

The Basilica of Saint-Seurin rests on an ancient necropolis which has developed over the centuries. Coming from the East in the 5th century, Saint Seurin was buried in the necropolis and it was around his tomb, a place of worship from the 6th century, that the first church was built before being erected as a basilica, there 150 years old by Pope Pius IX. The Basilica is twice classified by Unesco under the Ways of Santiago de Compostela (since 1998) and Bordeaux Port de la Lune (since 2007).

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