Amiens Cathedral

Amiens, France

Amiens Cathedral is one of the largest classic 13th century Gothic churches. It is notable for the coherence of its plan, the beauty of its three-tier interior elevation, and the particularly fine display of sculptures on the principal facade and in the south transept.

Amiens Cathedral was originally built in 1152 in Romanesque style and destroyed by fire in 1218. Reconstruction was started around 1220 and the nave was completed around 1245. Reconstruction of the choir started began around 1238 and completed before 1269, and the most of this part of the building, including the transept, was completed in 1288. Thanks to technical progress, the experience gained from other building sites and the speed at which it was constructed, Notre-Dame of Amiens has a very rare uniform style. The height of the ceiling is about 42.3 m and the width of the nave is about 14.6 m. The cathedral, erected on the plans of Robert de Luzarches, consists of a nave with aisles and lateral chapels, a transept with aisles, and a choir (with deambulatory) ending in an apse surrounded by chapels. The south tower was constructed about 1366 and the north tower about 1401.

The French Revolution left the edifice, which has undergone only minor restorations, practically untouched. In 1849 onwards, Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79) arranged and repaired the gallery over the rose window of the west facade and the top of the north tower.

The facade, which is flanked by two square towers without spires, has three portals decorated with a profusion of statuary, the central portal having a remarkable 13th-century statue of Christ; they are surmounted by two galleries, the upper one containing 22 statues of the kings of Judah in its arcades, and by a rose window. A slender spire rises above the crossing. The southern portal is remarkable for a figure of the Virgin and other statuary. The light inside the cathedral is also exceptional owing to the extremely high vaults, the large number of openings, and the glazed triforium above the choir and transept.

Inside the cathedral shows the sign of the new way of mature Gothic design such as the triforium of the choir, which was glazed with stained glass. Originally the triforium of the nave as well as the choir was to be fitted by stained glass, but it was eventually walled for structural reasons, owing to the 3m increase in the height of the nave.

The coherence of its plan, the beauty of its three-tier interior elevation, and the application of an extremely scholarly sculptural programme on its principal facade and the wing of the southern transept are striking. From 1292 to 1375, the cathedral was enriched by a series of chapels built between the buttresses of the side aisles. The style of the seven radiating chapels facing the double ambulatory of the choir became a model for other cathedrals. At the end of the Middle Ages, with the spire constructed above the transept crossing, the choir screen and the splendid stalls of the canons in sculpted wood, the cathedral assumed its present-day appearance.

Besides its prodigious 12th-century sculptural decor, the cathedral houses two bronze tombs, which are extremely rare testimonies to 13th-century foundry techniques: that of Geoffroy d'Eu and especially that of Edward de Foutilloy, the bishop who in 1220 undertook the reconstruction of Notre-Dame d'Amiens. Among other 14th-century works, that of the pier of Cardinal de la Grange with the statues of Andrè Beaunevau are especially notable.

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