One of the essentials on the city centre tour of Bordeaux is the central Place Pey Berland square and the 66-metre-tall Pey-Berland be...

Saint-Raphaël: the hamlet Pey Berland called home

One of the essentials on the city centre tour of Bordeaux is the central Place Pey Berland square and the 66-metre-tall Pey-Berland belfry, from which visitors can take in one of the best views of the “Port de la Lune”. But Pey Berland’s birthplace was actually a tiny hamlet on the territory of Avensan in the Médoc, 26 kilometres to the north-west of the city: Saint-Raphaël.

First things first though. Who was Pey Berland? Pey (Pierre, or Peter, in Gascon) was born in 1375 to a father who was a labourer from Avensan and a mother who was a peasant from Moulis. In spite of these humble roots, he was educated by a local notary before being sent to a clerical school in Bordeaux after the death of his father, then to university in Toulouse. Returning to Bordeaux, he became a priest in Bouliac to the south-east of the city around 1412. He went on to become secretary to the Archbishop of Bordeaux, travelling around France, Italy and England in this capacity, before Pope Martin V appointed him Archbishop of Bordeaux on August 13th 1430.

Pey Berland subsequently went on to become one of the most influential of all figures in Medieval Bordeaux, and much of what he instigated (at a time when the city was in profound moral and economic turmoil) continues to live on today. The aforementioned belfry, the construction of which began under his authority in 1440 (it was completed in 1500), is the lasting landmark which is most naturally associated with him, but he is also responsible for the founding of the original University of Bordeaux (in 1441), Saint-André hospital and a number of secondary schools.

Pey Berland’s reputation is that of an intelligent and wise man, who enjoyed immense powers but also remained modest and took great care of those in need, right up until his death in 1458. In the following years, this chapel was built at the exact spot where he was born in Saint-Raphaël:

The recently-restored chapel, included in the French national heritage inventory of sites and monuments, remains part of the parish of Saint-Pierre church in Avensan. The priest of Saint-Pierre continues to officiate at Saint-Raphaël for occasional christenings, weddings and funerals, and a ceremonial pilgrimage in memory of Pey Berland is held there every year in July.

The chapel is rarely open to the public, but by peeking through a broken window this is the inside view.
In terms of vital statistics, the chapel itself is 20 metres long and 8 metres wide. Extending out to the front is a porch that provides an additional 8 by 6 metres of shelter for pilgrims or overspill space in the event of the presence of large congregations! Across the yard, a small house provides the Avensan priest with a pied-à-terre when on duty in Saint-Raphaël. Outside, water supply comes in the shape of an antique Adam and Eve bas-relief combined with a resolutely modern tap.

The chapel is immediately surrounded by thirty acres of peaceful woodland, as well as serving as a starting point for a number of gentle countryside walks, all of which offer an environment that feels light-years away from the square which bears Pey Berland's name in central Bordeaux…


  1. Thanks for sharing these photos and history, Interesting. Diane

  2. My pleasure as ever! Thanks for reading!