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cathedral giants :
Amiens and Beauvais

centre of Amiens labyrinth

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Tour de France 2021

museum of stone carving
recumbent bronzes
the labyrinth
damage in world war 1
the choir stalls of amiens cathedral
the stained glass at amiens
buttressing and chainage
some history and interesting facts
world war 2 damage
glass at beauvais
end notes
Just as in the modern age, where every ambitious builder in New York strove to build an ever higher skyscraper, a vanity that now has spread around the world, the cities of France sought to outdo their rivals with ever bigger and taller cathedrals.

During the great cathedral-building craze, the vaults at Laon rose to 79 feet/24 m, those at Paris managed 110 feet/33.5 m, Chartres 114 feet/34.75 m, then 125 feet/38 m at Reims, then another leap to 135 feet/41.2 m at Amiens, and finally Beauvais hit the sky at 157 feet 6 inches/48 m - the only trouble was, they never could quite manage to make it stay up - the winner.

Biggest, longest, tallest, fattest, a lot of the time it depends on what and how you measure. Outside or inside, a chapel that has been added or that spire anybody can build on top, like a flagpole or aerial on a skyscraper. The Great Pyramid rose to a bit over 145 metres, but has lost about 10 metres as it has eroded down the ages.

Various European spires ran up above 150 metres while in France, Rouen topped 150 metres in the 19th century with a cast iron version was added. The age of iron and steel frames was upon us, the Eiffel Tower reaching 320 metres in 1889. But between the pyramids and the age of iron and steel, the cathedrals were the tallest structures in the world.

While Beauvais built higher, Amiens built bigger. It is said that Amiens cathedral was able to accommodate the whole 10,000 population of the medieval town.

Plan of Amiens cathedral
Above: Plan of Amiens cathedral.
The building covers an area of 7,700 m². Its internal volume is 200,000 m³.

right: Beauvais cathedral looms over the surrounding streets.
Beauvais cathedral, c.1910






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La cathedrale d'Amiens

The west front of Amiens cathedral is sometimes considered the most perfect and complete gothic facade. My first impression on mounting the parvis of Amiens is almost confusion, with the surfeit of carven stone bodies. I don’t much like crowds, and west front is like a crowd when first seen. It is over time that the more interesting details are gradually comprehended.

panorama of Amiens
Panorama of Amiens (19th century)

museum of stone carving

statues of saints, with Bishop Geoffroy on the right.

West door carving of hedgehog
Above: west door carving of a hedgehog (and a bittern, according to Ruskin)
[Note quatrefoils beneath the statues in photo on the left]

Left: statues of saints, with Bishop Geoffroy on the right.
(Great west doorway, north portal, St. Fermin’s door.)

the recumbent bronzes

“Two remarkable monuments of bronze, at the entrance of the nave from the western porch, were erected in memory of the founders of the church, Bishops Evrard and Gaudefroy. Upon the cenotaph of Evrard, the bishop is represented giving his benediction and trampling under his feet two dragons; round the tomb is a leonine inscription in Lombardic characters. The cenotaph of Bishop Gaudefroy d'Eu, on the opposite side of the entrance, and of the same material, differs little in its design and execution from that of Evrard. Both monuments were formerly placed in the middle of the nave, but were removed to the present site in 1762. Monuments of bronze are extremely rare in France, in consequence of the desecration of the churches of this kingdom during the eventful revolution of 1789.”
[p. 23, French cathedrals by Benjamin Winkles, Robert Garland, 1837]

Bronze memorial to Bishop Geoffroy Bronze memorial to Bishop Geoffroy
Bronze memorial to Bishop Geoffroy Bronze memorial to Bishop Evrard

Around the edge of each gisant (recumbent) statue is a dedication.

That of Bishop Everard de Fouilloy (died 1222) has engraved this inscription :

“Qui populum pavit, qui fundamêta locavit
Huiûs structure, cuius fuit urbs data cure
Hic redolens nardus famâ, requiescit Ewardus,
Vir pius ahflictos, vidvis tutela, relictis
Custos, quos poterat recreabat munere ; ύbis
Mitib aguus erat, tumidis leo, lima supbis”

Marker at abelard.org

Bishop Evrard de Fouilloy

“Who fed the people, who laid the foundations of this
Structure, to whose care the City was given,
Here, in ever-breathing balm of fame, rests Everard.
A man compassionate to the afflicted, the widow’s protector, the orphan’s
Guardian. Whom he could, he recreated with gifts.
To words of men,
If gentle, a lamb ; if violent, a lion ; if proud, biting steel.” [John Ruskin]

That for Geoffroy d’Eu (died 1237) :

“Ecce premunt humile Gaufridi membra cubile.
Seu minus aut simile nobis parat omnibus ille ;
Quem laurus gemina decoraverat, in medicinâ
Lege qû divina, decuerunt cornua bina ;
Clare vir Augensis, quo sedes Ambianensis
Crevit in imensis ; in cœlis auctus, Amen, sis.”
[Note this is in rhyming couplets.]

Marker at abelard.org

Bishop Geoffroy d'Eu

“Behold, Geoffrey’s limbs are pressing his humble bed.
Whether less, or like us, he is preparing for all;
Whom the twin laurels adorn, in medicine
And the divine law, the glory of two horns;
Illustrious man of Eu, whose see is Amiens,
Grew in stature; increased in heaven, Amen, if you wish.”

the labyrinth ('maze')

“The labyrinths of Rheims, Chartres, and Amiens possessed in common a feature which has given rise to much discussion, namely, a figure or figures at the centre representing, it is believed, the architects of the edifices.

Original central medallion of Amiens Labyrinth
Original central medallion of Amiens Labyrinth

“That of Amiens is preserved in Amiens Museum and consists of an octagonal grey marble slab with a central cross, between the limbs of which are arranged figures representing Bishop Evrard and the three architects, Robert de Luzarches, Thomas de Cormont and his son Regnault, together with four angels. A long inscription accompanied it, relating to the foundation of the Cathedral.” [Quoted from sacred-texts.com]

Reconstuction of the centre of the original Amiens labyrinth
Reconstruction of the central medallion in the original Amiens labyrinth, now part of the current labyrinth

A : Bishop Evrard de Fouilloy +1222
B : Architect Maïtre Robert de Luzarches +1223
C : Architect Maïtre Thomas de Cormont +1240
D : Architect Maitre Renaut de Cormont

a : En l'an de grâce mil II.c
        Et XX fu l'œuvre de cheens
In the year of grace thousand two hundred
And twenty was this work
b : Premièrement en comenchie
       A dont yert de cheste Evesquie
First begun
The bishop of this diocese was
c : EVRART Evesques benis
       Et Roy de France Loys.
Evrard blessed Bishop and the
King of France was Louis [VIII]
d : Q. fu filz Phelippe Lesage
        Chil. Q. maistre yert de l'œuvre
Who was son of Philip the Wise
He who was master of the work
e : Maistre Robert estoit nomes
        Et de Lusarches surnomes.
Was named Master Robert and
surnamed de Luzarches.
f : Maistre Thomas fu après luy
        De Cormot. Et après sen filz
Master Thomas de Cormont was
after him. And afterwards his son
g : Maistre Regnault qui master
        Fist à chest point Chichester lecture
Master Renaut who had
placed at this spot
h : Que reincarnation valuate
       Exilic an mains XII en Fallot.
This inscription
in the year of incarnation 1288.

“Evrard de Fouilloy, 45th bishop of Amiens, placed the first stone of the cathedral of this town in 1220, under the pontificate of Honour III. The walls had hardly left the ground when he died. Gaudefroy of Eu, his successor, raised the walls from the cobble stones to the vaults. Bishop Arnoult constructed the vaults, the galleries outside and a bell tower, all of which no longer exists. At last, this beautiful edifice was finished in 1288, with the exception of the towers, which for lack of funds, were not finished until the 14th century.

“Robert de Lusarches, the most famous architect of the time, drew the plan of the cathedral and started construction. After his death, Thomas de Cormont continued the works and Renault, his son, finished them.

“This is what the following inscription describes, an inscription on a copper strip at the centre of a maze of blue and white stones that used to be in the middle of the nave cobbles.”

[From Histoire de la ville d'Amiens: depuis les Gaulois jusqu'en 1830 by Hyacinthe Duseve, 1835, vol. 1 pp. 174-6]

The original labyrinth at Amiens was constructed in 1288, being 12.8 metres (42 feet) in diameter. It was destroyed in 1825. The drawing below appears to have been made before that labyrinth's destruction … or maybe not.

Amiens labyrinth drawn by Jules Gailhabaud
Original? Amiens labyrinth, drawn by Jules Gailhabaud [1810-1888],
L'architecture du 5me au 17me siècle et les arts qui en dépendent, Volume 2, 1858
(unpaginated book, about 3/4 of the way through)

The current labyrinth, restored in 1894, is in the nave between other tiling. It is 12.1 metres in diameter. The design can be difficult to follow as chairs, billboards and other church clutter tend to be put there willy-nilly. The labyrinth is made from black marble and Basz yellow-white tiles from Lunel. It is known here as the "House of Dedale".

Amiens labyrinth. Image: Maurice Duvanel
Amiens labyrinth. Image: Maurice Duvanel

However, if you take the drawing by Gailhabaud (a bit above), and reverse it black to white and white to black (similarly to making a negative), and then flip that reversed image left to right, magically it becomes the pattern for the present Amiens labyrinth. However, as you can see, the actual Amiens labyrinth has a redundant and confusing black line surrounding it.

the labyrinth at Amiens cathedral
Amiens labyrinth drawn by Jules Gailhabaud Amiens labyrinth drawn by Jules Gailhabaud Amiens labyrinth drawn by Jules Gailhabaud   Amiens labyrinth. Image: labyrinthproject.com
drawing by Gailhabaud, attributed by him to Amiens labyrinth made into a negative image flipped on the vertical axis   photo of the actual labyrinth at Amiens

The story then becomes stranger still. Gailhabaud shows the illustration, left below, for the labyrinth at Saint Quentin. This labyrinth illustration, in fact, corresponds to the actual labyrinth at Amiens (far right in the series above). It does not correspond to the actual labyrinth at Saint Quentin. To obtain the actual labyrinth at Saint Quentin, the Gailhabaud drawing must be flipped from left to right!

the labyrinth at the basilica of Saint Quentin
Saint Quentin labyrinth drawn by Jules Gailhabaud Amiens labyrinth drawn by Jules Gailhabaud the actual labyrinth at Saint Quentin
Saint Quentin labyrinth, drawn by Gailhabaud
Note: the drawing has an error, missing two bars. abelard.org has added these bars in red.]
flipped on the vertical axis photo of the actual labyrinth
at Saint Quentin

Damage in World War 1

Amiens was near to, though not at, the First World War front line. On 31 August 1914, forward units of the German army entered Amiens, and immediately started their habitual looting and bullying. During this, the Germans also kidnapped about a thousand young men, sending them into captivity.

About a week later, they were forced to turn tail as the main German offensive was blocked. They finally left on 17 September (the defeat on the Marne).

On 21 March 1918, Ludendorff opened a great offensive with a million troops, in order to break out. He was steadily ground down and stopped, being unable to enter Amiens but, of course, this did not stop the Germans from regularly shelling the town. During this time, the cathedral was hit nine times.

Without the Germans in the town, the people of Amiens were able to heavily protect the cathedral inside and out, and to remove the stained glass and other treasures to safety. So while some damage was done to the cathedral, it was minimised.

southern transept door, the door of the golden Virgin, protected by sandbags, 1915
above: southern transept door, the door of the golden Virgin, protected by sandbags, 1915

the choir stalls protected by sandbagging.above: the choir stalls protected by sandbagging.

below: effects of the first shells which hit the cathedral (aspect: inside the nave)

effects of the first shells which hit the cathedral

chapel of St. John the Baptist damaged by a shell
above: chapel of St. John the Baptist damaged by a shell (left-hand side of apse)

related material:
Germans in France

the choir stalls of Amiens cathedral

carving on choir stall elbow restThe choir (chœur in French) is where the clerics attached to the cathedral’s chapter (or religious hierarchy) gathered during prayers and services.

The clerics were not allowed to sit in “the presence of the Lord” and the ceremonies could continue for hours on end. The priests and monks were allowed a concession of a little ledge on which to rest their bottom while appearing to be standing. These ledges are called misericords (also spelt misericorde, misercord = mercy), and were justified by being the location for fancy carving on religious topics or stories from the bible.

The choir stalls at Amiens are considered to be among the best anywhere. They certainly are splendid, but I prefer the choir stalls at Auch. They are an extraordinary treasure hidden at the heart of that cathedral, with primitive naive energy, both in the subjects and in their implementation.

Two choir stalls at Amiens cathedral with their misericords marked.
Two choir stalls at Amiens cathedral with their misericords marked.

Misercord showing baby Moses being found in a basket by the river Nile.
Misercord showing baby Moses being found in a basket by the river Nile.

Feast of Cana carving on the side of a choir stall.
Feast of Cana carving on the side of a choir stall.

The Amiens choir stalls were made between 1495-1530. The artists were Arnould Boulin, Alexandre Huet and Jean Trupin. More images of the stalls are available at princeton.edu. This is the introductory page to Amiens. Many more choir stalls can be viewed via drop-downs on this page.

Dating from the end of the 13th century
Dating from the end of the 13th century
What a strong chin!

the stained glass at amiens

window donated by Dreux MalherbeAmiens cathedral has a stained glass collection of shreds and shards ranging over several centuries and several styles.

The earliest glass, dating from the 1230s, showed the various artistic fashions in the 13th century. This early glass was the lowest glass in the nave; finished in 1236, but destroyed at the end of the 13th century when the side chapels were built. The few vestiges were scattered in various depots and museums. The majority of this glass was gathered together, organised and conserved in 1830 by the painter and glazier, M.-H. Touzet. The pieces were placed in Bay 27 on the north side. There, they have been reunited in a forced fashion in three lancets, with story compartments, mostly from Genesis, arranged around a central ornamental motif.

During the Middle Ages, the wealth of Amiens was based on guède production and dying, becoming the main centre in France. Guède was the French name for woad, a blue dye originating from Isatis tinctoria leaves. More recently, in France, it is usually called pastel. The dye is used for clothing (French Army uniforms and American denim jeans for instance) and paints, among other things. Several Amiens worthies, who had created their wealth through guède manufacture and trade, made donations towards the construction of Amiens cathedral.

One of these donors, Andrieu Malherbe donated the glass shown here to the right in 1296 [located in Bay 39]. Malherbe was a rich burger of Amiens. He became mayor [maieur, mayeur] of Amiensin 1292, and died in 1293. His first name was sometimes written as André, and was also shortened to Drieu or Dreux. His wife was called Maroie. His coat of arms carried a fleur-de-lys (semé de France) on a ground of argent, with four azur tortoises.

Drieu Malherbe had acquired in 1291, from the chamberlain of King Philippe-le-Bel [1285 - 1314, father of Henry IV of Navarre] for about 1,000 pounds, the right of tonlieu for guaide [guède] in Amiens. In feudal law, the right to tonlieu is a tax levied for the display of merchandise in the markets. It is also a toll levied on goods transported across of a river by bridge or by ferry, or through the gates of the city.

Thus Malherbe could collect tolls and levees on the guède traffic and its revenues. These amounted to about 550 pounds a year. Dreux Malherbe, who died in 1295, left in his will to the town of Amiens, this right to collect taxes on guède, which produced a not inconsiderable income and was to be distributed as alms and be used to found two chapels, one in the church of Notre-Dame d'Amiens, the other in the church of Saint-Nicolas and the Poor Clerks.

Amiens account registers show that the town paid annually from the alms of Lord Drieu Malherbe:

To Saint-Ladre annually, on the day of Mid-Lent - 30 pounds
To the hospital in front of Saint-Leu, on Saint Jean-Baptiste’s Day - 20 pounds
To the God of Amiens hostel, on the day of Mid-Lent - 60 pounds
To the convent of minor brothers, the same day - 60 pounds
To the convent of preacher brothers, the same day - 30 pounds
To the chaplain of the chapel of the Poor-clerks, on saint Christopher’s day - 30 pounds
To the chaplain of the Saint Agnes chapel in the Notre-Dame church, on Saint Jean-Baptiste’s Day - 30 pounds
To the Mayor of Amiens as alms which he gave in great blankets and shoes to the poor on Toussaint [1st November] and the Day of Souls [2nd November] - 11 pounds
Derived from Le Livre d'or de la municipalité amiénoise [The book of gold of the Amiens municipality], GoogleBook pp. 40 - 41
and Le premier livre des Antiquitez, Histoires et Choses plus remarquables de la ville d'Amiens, poëtiquement traité [The first book of Antiquities, History and Things most remarkable of Amiens, poetically treated] by Adrian de La Morlière, 1626 - p.318

Two panels from the south rose window, end of 15th to start of 16th century
Two panels from the south rose window, end of 15th to start of 16th century

The transparency of the North transept rose, with pentagon and pentagram centre
The transparency of the North transept rose,
with pentagon and pentagram centre

Common among Victorians was the fancy that the rose windows of a cathedral like Amiens somehow incorporated magical reference to the four ancient elements of earth, fire, air, and water - a bit strained when you have to cram the four elements into three rose windows. To skid around this inconvenience, the west window was deemed to incorporate both earth and air. The north window was more easily associated with the transparency of water, while the south window could be associated with the darker reds and oranges of fire.

The standard colours of the four elements were attributed as earth>green; air>yellow or perhaps grey, white, or blue; fire>red or orange; and water>blue. As you can see, there is a bit of a struggle with the colours of air, though the others are fairly conventional.

Amiens cathedral west rose Amiens cathedral north rose Amiens cathedral south rose
Amiens cathedral west rose Amiens cathedral north rose Amiens cathedral south rose

Cracks below the triforium, Amiens cathedral

buttressing and chainage

To help protect the cathedral from literally falling apart from the strains generated by building such a large structure that led to it being rather unstable, chains of iron stabilising rods [chaînage, chainage] were added, generally hidden galleries and passages.

The building of Amiens cathedral, a huge cathedral only capped in height by Beauvais, was much effected by the then nascent knowledge of structural engineering, and by the ambitions of the builders and the people who commission the construction. The flying buttresses were not always sufficient, or were not placed to apply a counter pressure in the right position to prevent the stone shifting so cracks appear, columns to bow and arches threaten to collapse.

To correct the problems that appeared, the builders at Amiens took two main steps. One was adding better positioned buttressing. The original flying buttresses had been placed so their point of reinforcement was too high, and so not effective. Additional buttressing was added later to correct the problem.

Double buttressing at Amiens
Above and right: Double buttressing at Amiens

Double buttressing at Amiens

The original buttressing to the south-east crossing of the transept and nave are among the most beautiful of any cathedral, and were designed to support both the clerestory wall and the high vaults. Unfortunately, the artistry outran the technology. The lower part of the buttress (marked in green) was placed slightly too high to give sufficient support to the vaults, necessitating an added lower reinforcing buttress (marked in red) in some places. The extra buttress somewhat spoiled the original artistic effect.

The second method for correcting the cathedral's structural problems was giving the cathedral a girdle, at first in wood. This was later replaced with an iron armature, probably forged at the Abbey of Fontenay.

Background facts

AmiensAmiens blason

approximate population : 133 354
average altitude/elevation : 33 m

Amiens is 87 miles/139 km north of Paris

cathedral dimensions
external length : 145 m
internal length : 133.5 m
transept external length : 72 m
transept internal length : 62 m
transept width : 29.3 m
nave width : 12.15 m
nave height (under the vaults) : 42.3 m
tower height, to top of spire : 112.7 m
labyrinth (labyrinthe) diameter : 12.1 m
Jesse tree window at Beauvais Jesse tree window at Beauvais

thirteenth century glass at Beauvais cathedralBeauvais - The cathedral of St Peter

It is a while since I visited Beauvais, and what was seen has become somewhat impressionistic. Beauvais cathedral rises like some volcano or primitive dinosaur that has burst forth from the earth among the houses of the town.

The dominant response I have is ‘scary’, and that’s just from the outside. The outside isn’t interesting or very remarkable beyond its great explosion.

But go inside, and until recently, you stepped into a threatening cauldron, shorn up by an array of iron and wood. This is the real monster of gothic cathedrals, the choir vault rising to over 46 metres, that’s over 150 feet. This extraordinary elevation is further emphasised by the fact that the nave is so short, having never been completed. There’s no long nave to balance the rocketing height.

The cathedral may have survived the WW2 incendiary bombardments that razed much of Beauvais, but this frail stone house of cards is still at the mercy of man and nature. Gale force winds originating from the English Channel oscillate the buttresses and shift the weak roof structure, while sometimes ill-conceived repairs and restorations to the structure. Running from the 1950s to the 1980s, one experiment involved removing many important iron ties from the choir buttresses. This damaging project was thought to have been corrected by temporary ties-and-braces in the 1990s. However, this may have made the building too stiff, so increasing stresses rather than diminishing them.

Some of the wood bracing at Beauvais cathedral. Image: ninasaurusrex

But since 2010, this has changed after major consolidation works were effected, stabilising the heights of the nave. This stabilisation is even leading to the notion that perhaps the tower and spire could be re-erected, this time successfully.

some history and interesting facts

The cathedral, with its five-aisled choir abutted by a towered transept, was commissioned by Bishop Milon de Nanteuil in 1225. It was opened in 1272.

The vaulting fell in 1284.

The tower/spire was completed in 1569.

  • Four little turrets were supported by the four pillars of the transept crossing.
  • The turrets rose from the roof and met a square, open tower forty-eight feet high [14.6 m].
  • A second tower, octagonal, lace-like, and sixty-three feet high [19 m],
  • The second tower supported a third stage, over forty-nine feet high [15 m], which was still more lightly traceried.
  • These three divisions more than a hundred and sixty feet high [49 m] were made of stone,
  • and on them rested the ninety-seven foot high [30 m] wooden needle.
  • The entire spire rose two hundred and fifty-seven feet [78 m] above the roofs of the Cathedral and nearly five hundred feet [152 m] above the ground.

    “This new pyramidal spire became the wonder of the country. "It ... was ... higher than the famous spire of Strasbourg, and it is said that from its summit, the houses of Paris were visible." ”
    [Cathedrals and cloisters of the Isle de France vol. 2 by Elise Whitlock Rose, pp.293-4]

The tower fell in 1573.

“On the eve of Ascension Day, 1573, a few small stones began to fall from its heights. The next morning, a mason, who had been sent to test it, cried out in alarm; the bearers of the reliquaries, about to join the Procession of the people and the clergy who were waiting outside, fled;—there was a violent cracking,—and in an instant, the vault crashed amidst a storm of dust and wind. Then, before the eyes of the terrified worshippers, the triple stories of the lantern sank [like the Twin Towers on 9-11-2001], the needle fell, and a shower of stones rained into the church and on the roofs.”
[Cathedrals and cloisters of the Isle de France vol. 2 by Elise Whitlock Rose, pp.296-7]
There is no record of what became of the mason!

It’s almost a shame to go into details rather than just let the cathedral overwhelm your senses, a bit like discussing the size of the wheels on a roller coaster. If the medieval mind ever wished to put you in awe whilst adding a touch of real-world danger, this is it.

The ominous reason that Beauvais was never completed is that the original enthusiasts just could not be quite sure of making it stay up!

The interior of Beauvais cathedral by Wilhelm Lubke
The interior of Beauvais cathedral, from Grundriss der Kunstgeschichte, 1864
Note the tiny people at the base of the soaring columns
    Notice the unusual four levels of windows in this towering cathedral in a closer view of the apse
Notice the unusual four levels of windows in this towering cathedral

All the parts in this vast edifice are derived from the equilateral triangle, from the floor plan to the both the overall design and the details of the cross-sections and elevations. Unfortunately, the cathedral of Beauvais was erected with too limited resources and weak materials, as well being provided with a too narrow site. The various messes, stemming from bad work by unskilled workmen, necessitated repair and consolidation work, as well as the doubling of the piers. This last destroyed in great part the truly prodigious impression made by the immense nave, so well conceived theoretically and drawn by a man of genius.

It was the custom and sometimes, as in this instance, the tragedy of those days, for builders to use the stone of the region or of some donated quarry, irrespective—and sometimes in spite—of its quality. This was part of Beauvais's tragedy. If Beauvais had not been commenced at a time when the religious and political movement which had built the Northern Cathedrals had begun to lose impetus, Saint Peter’s cathedral would have stood. If the architect had possessed the quarries of Burgundy, the materials used at Dijon and at Semur, or the beautiful calcareous stone of Chatillon-sur-Seine, or even that of Montbard, Austrude, or of Dornecy, or even—which might have been possible—that of Laversine, of Crouy, and certain hard strata of the valleys of the Oise or the Aisne, the work would have stood. [including abstractions from Viollet Le-Duc vol. VII, p.549]

Beauvais: World War 2 damage

Beauvais after German bombing in 1940. The cathedral is in the foreground.
Beauvais after German bombing in 1940. The cathedral is in the foreground.

Early in June 1940, there was several days of heavy bombing. The Luftwaffe set most of the medieval town alight. Many were killed, while the tapestry industry was devastated and a 42,000 book library burnt out.

Rouen cathedral"In Beauvais, a number of the metallic tie-rods supporting the flying buttresses bear graffiti from the eighteenth century, potentially indicating that the metal may have been a later addition. However certain pieces proved to date back to the beginning of the construction process (around 1225-1240 AD), suggesting that in order to succeed in erecting the world's highest Gothic choir (46.3 meters), iron was combined with stone from the initial design phase."

Beauvais cathedral after German bombing in 1940 The Germans smashed Beauvais cathedral in 1940, as can be seen in this image. The upper flying buttresses were destroyed (see right).

Therefore, I am unsure quite what is being claimed here. Maybe some of the bars had been recovered from the rubble.

related material:
Germans in France

thirteen century glass at Beauvais cathedral

above and below:
thirteen century glass at Beauvais cathedral

thirteenth century glass at Beauvais cathedral

Plan of Beauvais cathedral

A great gothic cathedral is akin to a house of cards. The great west front and the marching bays of the nave form a bulwark against the weight of the crossing and, likewise, the apse at the eastern end. Beauvais in its incomplete state is unusual, it has no great west front, no west doors or portals. This is part of why the stability of Beauvais is somewhat dubious.

glass at Beauvais

Fortunately, most of the important glass at Beauvais was removed to safety before the devastation caused by National Socialism’s Luftwaffe.

The great doors of Beauvais are north and south. Like much of the cathedral, the transepts containing these doors date from the sixteenth century and the two great roses are, therefore, flamboyant.

The north rose is sometimes described as a sun, and rises above a series of lancets showing sibyls. The south front has two rows of lancets probably representing kings and prophets, and is surmounted by a rose that divides into stories from the Old Testament. It has God at the centre, surrounded by the seven days of creation and then outside that, Adam, Noah, Babel, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph, Moses and the flight from Egypt. At present, I can find no good illustrations for these roses among my photographs, nor on the web.

There is generally more academic interest in the medieval glass, from the 13th, 14th and even 15th centuries. For example, there are six very nice thirteenth-century lancets in the apsidal chapel. Their draftsmanship is unusually good. Pictures of two can be seen at the head of the Beauvais section, and a couple more next to this section.

A brilliant book on the early Beauvais glass is Picturing the celestial city by Michael Cothren. This book is expensive, but unlike most coffee table books, the text is good, coherent and interesting from beginning to end. It is copiously and appropriately illustrated. I can recommend this book unreservedly. Your public library should have a copy, even if you decide it is too expensive. (This book also does not cover the later glass.) five GoldenYak (tm) award

I can also recommend Painton Cowen’s brilliant and growing catalogue of stained glass windows for those wishing to have an idea of the glass in the great churches - this is the link to the Beauvais section. There are links to other parts of the site available to the left side of the page. (For Painton Cowen’s book.)

Background facts

BeauvaisBeauvais blason

approximate population : 53,400
average altitude/elevation : 65 m / 213 ft

Beauvais is 53 miles/84 km north of Paris

cathedral dimensions
total length : 70 m / 230 ft
tower height : 151.59 m / 497.3 ft
choir vault height : 46.77 m / 153.4 ft
great arcade height : 21.2 m / 69.6 ft
great bay height: 17 m / 56ft
triforium height : 4 m / 13 ft
nave width : 16 m / 52 ft
transept length : 58 m / 190 ft
diameter north rose : 11 m / 36
diameter south rose : 11 m / 36 ft


Picturing the celestial city by Michael W. Cothren
five GoldenYak (tm) award

Picturing the celestial city by Cothren

Princeton University Press, hbk, 2006
ISBN-10: 0691120803
ISBN-13: 978-0691120805

$79.86 [amazon.com]
£66.45 [amazon.co.uk] {advert}

The Early Iconography of the Tree of Jesse
by A Watson
The Early Iconography of the Tree of Jesse

Oxford University Press
1934, hbk

4to., pp.xiv,197,(xl), navy cloth, gilt, b/w frontispiece, 40 b/w plates to rear of volume

In Living Memory: Portraits of the Fourteenth-Century Canons of Dorchester Abbey

In Living Memory: Portraits of the Fourteenth-Century Canons of Dorchester Abbey
by Lucy Freeman Sandler

Nottingham Medieval Studies - 56():pp. 327-349 [22 pages]

BrepolsOnline, Brepols Publishers NV

This publication is sold as a .pdf download of a journal article.
An individual can have "unlimited access" for $22.00 plus tax ($1.21), a total of $23.21.

"To gain access to your content, please go to: www.brepolsonline.net, log on to your account and navigate to your purchased content. If you have questions regarding this purchase, or require additional help, please contact us at Brepols Publishers NV"

end notes

  1. The Bible of Amiens by John Ruskin, 1884, chapter 4, p.378.
    The Bible of Amiens is available on the web as part of a collection. There, it extends from p.273 to p.412. It is also available on paper in reprints (make sure you are buying the full version with four chapters) and secondhand copies.
    Chapter 4, starting on p.362 of the online version, contains a minute description of the statuary of Amiens cathedral, complete with symbolic meanings.
    John Ruskin (1819-1900) spent several years in Amiens, referring to Amiens cathedral as the “Parthenon of France”.
    The great cathedrals are often referred to as ‘bibles in stone’, and here you can see Ruskin’s analysis of the Amiens statuary in that spirit.

  2. On the inscription, 1288 is written “Xiij.c ans moins XII”, or “13 hundred years less 12”.

    Note that on the copper plaque from the cathedral, the Roman numerals are written in the normal way as XIII. The transcription in John Ruskin’s book writes Roman numerals as was commonly done since medieval times, with the final ‘i’ of a number group being written as a ‘j’as a terminator. On medical prescriptions, the terminating ‘j’ helps avoid prescribing errors.

    Thus, the first ten Roman numerals would be written j, ij, iij, iv, v, vj, vij, viij, ix, x.

  3. Tree of Jesse
    • A visual representation of the genealogy, the family tree, of Jesus. The name ‘Jesse Tree’ comes from the Book of Isaiah 11:1, where Jesus is described as a shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse, the father of David.

      In stained glass depictions, the tree comes from the side, or the navel, of Jesse lying on a bed. The lineage shown includes the following list, but may be longer, including other ancestors such as Solomon.
      The characters in the list below of a typical Jesse tree are accompanied by symbols, which may decorate the Jesse tree. Bible sources are also included.
      Adam and Eve, symbol : apple (Genesis 2:4-3:24)
      Noah : ark or rainbow (Genesis 6:11-22, 7:17-8:12, 20-9:17)
      Abraham : knife (Genesis 12:1-7, 15:1-6)
      Isaac : ram (Genesis 22:1-19)
      Jacob : ladder (Genesis 27:41-28:22)
      Joseph : colourful coat (Genesis 37, 39:1-50:21)
      Moses : tablets of the law (Exodus 2:1-4:20)
      David : harp (1 Samuel 16:17-23)
      Isaiah : lion and lamb (Isaiah 1:10-20, 6:1-13, 8:11-9:7)
      Mary : lily (Luke 1:26-38)
      Elizabeth : small home (Luke 1:39-55)
      Joseph : hammer or saw (Matthew 1:18-25)

  4. Grundriss der Kunstgeschichte, 1864, by Wilhelm Lübke (1826-1893), p.388, fig.227.

  5. The hedgehog, elsewhere, is described as an urchin, the bird as a cormorant, a heron, a pelican, or even an owl. Such are the problems in translating from two or three thousand years ago. For a wide-ranging list of translations, see Zephaniah 2-14, and let this be a lesson to you.
    [The hedgehog quatrefoil is located at the bottom right of the Saint Fermin door, the north portal of the Great West door.]

  6. It is traditional to name the doors by the person whose statue is on the trumeau. The south portal is Our Lady. The central portal of the west front is God, who has a small statue of Saint Peter under his feet.

marker cathedrals – introduction: reading stained glass
marker gothic cathedral and church construction
marker cathedrals, an illustrated glossary
marker Chartres - wonder of the world
marker Notre Dame de Paris, Paris
marker lantern towers of Normandy and elsewhere
marker history of ugly stained glass: Auch, Bazas, Dreux
marker Auch cathedral choir and stalls
marker Rouen and Monet
marker at France pages Dax and church iconography marker photographs, Dax
marker Bazas - iconography and architectural styles
marker Poitiers, neglected masterpiece marker photographs, Poitiers / photos 2
marker Angers, heart of the Angevin Empire marker photographs, Angers
marker Laon, the midst of the gothic transition, with added oxen marker photographs, Laon
marker Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon
marker Notre Dame of Lausanne
marker Senlis - how a typical cathedral changes through the ages
marker Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges - the cathedral of the Pyrenees
marker Cathedrale Saint-Gatien at Tours

marker Le Mans and Bourges cathedrals - medieval space technology
marker Lausanne rose window - photo-analysis
marker cathedrals in Lorraine - the Three Bishoprics
marker cathedral giants - Amiens and Beauvais
marker Clermont-Ferrand and Agde - from volcanoes to cathedrals

marker Germans in France - Arras cathedral
marker Germans in France - Reims cathedral
marker Germans in France - St. Quentin cathedral
marker Germans in France - Noyon cathedral
marker Germans in France - Cambrai cathedral
marker Germans in France - Soissons cathedral

marker cathedral plans, and facts
marker stone in church and cathedral construction
marker using metal in gothic cathedral construction
marker cathedral labyrinths and mazes in France
marker cathedrals and cloisters of Franceby Elise Whitlock Rose
marker the perpendicular or English style of cathedral
marker Romanesque churches and cathedrals in south-west France

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