The eleventh episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available! So please form an orderly queue ahead o...

Podcast #11 - Antoine Puentès on the history of public transport in Bordeaux

The eleventh episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available! So please form an orderly queue ahead of immediate boarding for a trip back through the 200-year history of public transport in Bordeaux, with friend-of-the-blog Antoine Puentès in the driving seat!

By day, Antoine's background as a history graduate is put to good use working for France's Centre des Monuments Nationaux, and in his spare time he has gained something of a reputation as the go-to authority on all things public transport-related, as regularly demonstrated in high-profile conferences he has given and articles he has produced. 

As we will see, the subject at hand is a vast one, ranging from the horse-drawn omnibuses and first-generation trams of yesteryear, to tomorrow's high-speed bus services and regional rail network, via the city's buses, trolleybuses, the aborted VAL metro project and the rebirth of the tram network. Your ticket gives you unlimited access to all these forms of transport over the next twenty minutes in Antoine's company!

Here then is the podcast, which you'll also find on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the platform of your choice!

Click here if player does not display properly on your device.

> If you're social media-minded, you can follow Antoine Puentès by hunting down "Mysticktroy" on Twitter and Instagram.

Antoine, viewed through a tram-shaped looking glass.

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We are in Lacanau-Océan, on the Atlantic coast some sixty kilometres to the west of Bordeaux, and we are outside an angular building th...

Notre-Dame des Flots, Lacanau-Océan’s minimalist place of worship

We are in Lacanau-Océan, on the Atlantic coast some sixty kilometres to the west of Bordeaux, and we are outside an angular building that could easily be mistaken for offices or a warehouse, or possibly a supermarket. It is in fact a church, Notre-Dame des Flots, and its unusual minimalist design and red-brick architecture have been listed as 20th-century heritage (Patrimoine du XXe siècle). What’s the story?

In 1907, shortly after the resort of Lacanau-Océan was first founded, one of the initial property developers erected a small wooden chapel on Rue de la Paix, not far from the seafront, to enable holiday-makers to attend services which, from 1920 onwards, were held on a daily basis during the summer season. Although it was extended over time, the chapel ultimately proved to be too small. What is more, it faced twin threats: being swallowed up by sand dunes and being slowly eaten away by termites! 

The original chapel in amongst the dunes. On the right, the extra window shows how it was extended. Source:
The chapel was abandoned and dismantled, and the decision was made to build a more durable edifice. A larger plot of land was acquired by the Bordeaux diocese in 1960, the purchase coinciding with the creation of a local parish structure, “Association Paroissiale de Lacanau-Océan”. During this interim period, open-air services were held, although a new makeshift weather-resistant wooden chapel was soon built at the new location.

In 1964, an agreement was ratified by representatives of the Archbishop of Bordeaux, the vicar of Lacanau and the chairman of the Parish Association committing to the construction of a new church, to be built to the designs of Patrick Maxwell, Jean-Claude Moreau and Francis Duclos (Agora architects). Finances came in the shape of a loan from the Catholic Church’s “Chantiers Diocésains”; the 220,000-French-franc outlay would have to be paid back over 20 annual instalments of 17,000 francs (by doing the maths it is easy to work out that there were substantial interest rates involved!). The Parish was in effect signing up to years of fund-raising initiatives ranging from fêtes and jumble sales to hiring out the church as a venue for secular events. (And still today, the church is an occasional concert venue.)

Foundation stone ceremony in 1964.
Picture source: information leaflet
available inside the church.
Anyway, the foundation stone was laid by Bordeaux’s Cardinal Richaud in August of 1964. Budgetary issues led to hastily revised plans for the building, possibly resulting in the back-to-basics end-result which was delivered in 1967. In some ways it was very much a two-in-one design: through the use of panels, a heated corner of the building could originally be closed off to serve as the winter chapel for year-round worshippers, while the full space was used when the church was operating to full capacity during the holiday season, where it could accommodate up to 600 visitors. The building also comprised a small apartment where the priests-in-residence could stay.

But the aforementioned budgetary constraints were to have other knock-on effects ten years down the line, when it became apparent that the iron framework was fighting a losing battle against the salty sea air, that some of the cheap materials used were also ageing badly, that the roof was anything but watertight, and that the electrical installation needed to be replaced. The building therefore underwent a massive overhaul and over the next decade the Parish shifted its focus from paying off its debts to investing more in the upkeep of the church.

Bricks and mortar.
In 1991, the building was greatly embellished by the installation of some stained-glass and ceramic artwork by Raymond Mirande, manufactured by the Ateliers Dupuy-Fournier glassmakers, along with the addition of a slender row of stained-glass windows that run along each side of the church just below ceiling height. Of the main Mirande creations, which are positioned behind the altar, the first represents Noah’s Ark, the second depicts Virgin Mary alongside an adolescent Jesus, and the third comprises a series of images ranging from a dove of peace, to depictions of Pentecost and Jerusalem. 

Stained-glass creations flanking the altar and along the sides of the building.
A closer look at one of the Mirande stained-glass creations, photo courtesy of Harvey Morgan (
From then on it was fairly plain sailing until the turn of the millennium when a health and safety audit established that the church was short on exits and could only reasonably welcome up to 200 people rather than 600! The Parish got to work with an architect to create some additional openings to enable the church to get back to operating at full capacity throughout the early years of the 21st century, the first major highlight of which came in September 2015, just ahead of the 50th anniversary celebrations, when the prestigious “Patrimoine du XXe Siècle” label was awarded. Hurrah! 

Further views of the church, including its eminently accessible front door and, bottom left, the rear of the building, including living quarters on the first floor.
The church is not usually open to the general public other than when services are being held, but by recently engineering an arrival on site around noon on a Sunday I was able to see inside, courtesy of two very kind ladies who were clearing up after that morning’s mass and who invited me and my travelling companions to enter. We were reluctant to outstay our welcome, so the visit was particularly swift, but we did find the time to admire the stained-glass windows and a 330-kilogram bell which is kept inside and was previously the property of a convent in Lyon. 

The inside of the church and the bell from Lyon. Check out the corrugated metal ceiling/roof, which in all likelihood was installed during the 1970s overhaul. Presumably it must be get very noisy when it's raining!
Our hosts also spontaneously led us to the leaflets detailing the history of the church, as they were quick to point out that there was little or no information available on the internet. Well, that is no longer the case as the church does now at least have its own Invisible Bordeaux report, based almost exclusively on that archive information compiled by whoever wrote those leaflets on behalf of the Association Paroissiale de Lacanau-Océan, so a big thank you goes out to them for sharing the story of Notre-Dame des Flots… undoubtedly one of Gironde’s most interesting and unusual places of worship! 

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Notre-Dame des Flots, 12 avenue de l'Adjudant Guittard, Lacanau-Océan
> Thank you once again to the kind ladies who let us look inside the church, and to whoever wrote the Association Paroissiale de Lacanau-Océan information leaflet which formed the basis of much of the content shared here! 
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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