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Saint-Jean-de-Luz church visitor guide

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Visit Saint-Jean-de-Luz church, France

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The church of Saint John the Baptist is in the centre of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a coastal town in the south-west of France near the border with Spain, and is the most important historic monument in the town.

Discover the church of Saint-John the Baptist in SaintJean-de-Luz

France This Way comment: the church of Sant-Jean the baptist in Saint-Jean-de-Luz is our favourite example of the architecture of basque churches, and a very impressive church to visit

The church is best known in history as the place where Louis XIV (the Sun King) married Marie-Thérèse of Austria (the Infant of Spain) in June 1660.

rear of the church in Saint-Jean-de-Luz

A church has stood in this location since at least the 12th century, which was damaged and rebuilt several times due to damage during the Hundred Years War and during wars with the Spanish but nothing remains of these earlier churches.

The first church that has left its mark on the current structure is a gothic style church built here in the 15th century, of which some elements can still be seen including the lower part (the porch) of the belltower.

In the early 17th century it was decided to build a bigger church, because Saint-Jean-de-Luz was now a substantial town rather than a small fishing village.

The architecture of the church is unexceptional from the outside, and is rather hard to see because of the buildings that now surround the church. The best views are from Rue Gambetta, where you can see the side of the church as well as the substantial plain walls of the chevet at the rear of the building.

The building took almost 50 years starting in 1630, so at the time of the famous marriage the church was a building site, not the impressive church was see today!

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The interior of the church of Saint-John the baptist follows a simple layout with a single wide nave and a short transept that is only slightly wider than the nave.

It is remarkable, above all for the three rows of balconies along the sides of the nave, and the large golden altar at the end of the church, in the baroque style, below a large painted dome. This altar is among the most impressive we have seen in France, and quite unexpected when you see the church from the outside.

The altar, which is in carved wood covered with gold, completely fills the end of the church. It has three rows, each with statues representing the saints, as well as other status and carvings and was built at the same time that the Palace at Versailles was also being built for the Sun King.

Although more modest in ambition than the altar, the tiered balconies are also very impressive and along both sides of the nave, with the highest level near the ceiling of the church. Historically, the men attending a service sat on the balconies and the women sat below in the body of the church.

The interior is rather like two different churches that have been brought together, with the tiered balconies and white walls of the nave very typical of basque churches, but the altar and transept areas much more Italian in conception.

Most of the interior furnishings date from the 17th century, so contemporary with the building of the church. Other historic items that you can see in the church include a pulpit and a relief of Saint-Amboise, both from the 17th century, and there is also a model of a boat hanging from the ceiling, a reminder of the importance of the sea to the history of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

altar of the church in saint-jean-de-luz in Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Attractions nearby

The town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz is one of our favourite resorts in France, with a sandy beach in the town centre and an interesting historic centre: see the Saint-Jean-de-Luz guide.

See more churches in France. You can find more travel ideas in the Pyrenees-Atlantiques guide and the Aquitaine guide.

See also: 

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Map of Saint-Jean-de-Luz church and places nearby

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The French version of this page is at Saint-Jean-de-Luz church (Francais)

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