La Grosse Cloche is particularly dear to the people of Bordeaux

The big bell, called “€œArmande Louise”€, represents a monument in and of itself and it is particularly dear to the people of Bordeaux. As a symbol, the big bell appeared on the coat of arms of the city at the end of the fourteenth century. The elements that constitute the entire gate, “€œPorte Saint Eloi”€, are the belfry and its clock, the adjacent towers and the underground gaols. All were integrated into the ancient medieval walls and attached to the Church of Saint Eloi.

The magistrates of the city rang it to announce the harvest or to prevent a fire in the city. When the King wanted to punish the population of Bordeaux for insubordination (non-compliance of curfew for example), he would order to have the bell and the clock removed, like Henry II did in 1548 in retaliation against the jacqueries.

Built on the remains of the Porte Saint-Eloy parish gate, or “€œPorte Saint James”€, it opened the way for pilgrims on the way to Saint Jacques (Santiago) de Compostela in Spain. This explains the name of the street, €”Saint James”€, the Gascon version of “€œSaint Jacques”€.

La Grosse Cloche, Bordeaux France - Photo: Asgeir Pedersen
La Grosse Cloche seen from Cours Victor Hugo

La Grosse Cloche underwent many modifications up until the 18th century but the monument as a whole is one of the rare, remaining medieval vestiges of Bordeaux, (together with Porte Cailhau in particular).

The current bell, cast by the founder Trumeau in 1775, is in fact the sixth to be set up in this belfry, the fifth having been cracked when sounding the alarm during the fire of 1774.

Engraved along the rim of the bell is a play with words in Latin, designating its functions:
“I call to arms
I announce the days
I give the hours
I chase the storm
I ring the holidays

I cry at the fire”

On the exterior of the bell are the coat of arms of the City of Bordeaux, France, Marshal Richelieu, the governor of the Province of Guyenne and the Duchess of Aiguillon.

On the inside of the bell, one can read the following inscription:
“My blows mark the time, my voice calls to arms, I have songs for all the joyous, I have tears for all the dead”.

The belfry is surmounted by a weather vane in the form of a gold leopard, representing the arms of the Province of English Guyenne, of which Bordeaux was the capital.

La Grosse Cloche, Bordeaux France - Photo: Asgeir Pedersen
La Grosse Cloche seen from Rue Saint-James

A visit full of surprises

During a visit of the Grosse Cloche you will discover hidden rooms underground that attest to its dark past: the belfry has housed jails! It is said that prisoners were locked up only 15 days behind 10 cm thick doors. However, the writings on the walls seem to tell a different story.

The bell, Armande Louise, has generous forms, weighing nearly 7.750 kg. It is two meters high and two meters in diameter. The bell€™s weight and some cracks make it fragile and sensitive to vibrations.

It now rings only 6 times a year, at 11am on 1st January, 1st May, 8th and 14th of July, 28th August (liberation of Bordeaux) and on 11th November.

Sources
Bordeaux Tourisme
33Bordeaux
Wikipedia