Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Bordeaux Churches and Places of Worship -Saint Seurin Basilica

One of the 3 churches given UNESCO World Heritage status. Saint Seurin dates back to the 5th century and is the oldest church in Bordeaux. French pilgrims stopped here to pray on route to Santiago de Compostela in the Middle Ages. Saint Seurin (or Severinius is somewhat of a mystery – he joined Bishop Amand in his ministry and succeeded him as head of the Bordeaux See. A monastery is said to have been established outside the town walls by Seurin on the site of a Gallo-Roman cemetery where both bishops were later buried. Following Seurin's death in 420 AD, his grave became the objective of pilgrims, and his patronage of the city was declared after a number of miraculous cures were attributed to his intervention.

Charlemagne, King of the Franks, is said to have lain down Roland’s ivory horn, Olivant, after the defeat of Ronceveaux there. The horn was made of ivory hence it's name (oliphant, or elephant ivory) and Roland was the bravest and most loyal of the 12 legendary paladins, or knights, who served Charlemagne. Although Charlemagne was a historical figure, many fanciful tales about the king and his knights appeared during the Middle Ages. It was said that Roland stood 8 feet tall and carried a magical sword called Durindana (or Durendal) that had once belonged to the Trojan hero Hector.

According to medieval stories, Roland (or Orlando) was the son of Charlemagne's sister. Living as a poor peasant in Italy, he was welcomed to the court of the king after his true identity was revealed. Although a powerful warrior, Roland's concern with winning honour and fame eventually cost him his life.

Ganelon, another Paladin and Roland's close friend, was sent to negotiate with the Muslim leader. Instead, jealous of Roland, Ganelon plotted with the enemy and revealed the route Roland's army planned to take. The Muslims waited for Roland and ambushed him at Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees Mountains.

The paladins had told Roland to blow his ivory horn to summon reinforcements from Charlemagne, but Roland refused to call for help until the battle was almost lost. By then it was too late. When Charlemagne's troops arrived, Roland and many of the bravest paladins were dead. At the end of the story, Charlemagne had Ganelon killed for his treachery.

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