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Amiens Cathedral - Explore France's Largest Gothic Cathedral


As we have told you in previous posts, I (Thomas) come from the North of France. More particularly, I am originally from Amiens, the capital city of Picardie. This is why writing a post about this city has been on our minds for quite a while now. Amiens has seen me grow up; I, in turn, have seen it evolve and reveal itself over the years. So what if I made you discover my birthplace and its most emblematic place, the Cathedral of Amiens?


Cathédrale d'Amiens, Amiens Cathedral, Picardie



GENERAL INFORMATION

If you were to see only one thing of Amiens, it would undeniably be its cathedral! It is the emblem of the city, it is grandiose, imposing and magnificent! For many, this architectural achievement looks a lot like Notre-Dame de Paris, but for those who look at it more closely, it's much more than that! While Notre-Dame de Paris has a simpler façade, the Cathedral of Amiens is a real treat for the eyes! Its facade abounds with countless statues and sculptures, it is a true masterpiece!

 

The dimensions of the cathedral are colossal: 42.30 meters high under the vaults and 145 meters long. It is the largest cathedral in France thanks to its gigantic interior volume (200.000 m3) and is large enough to contain two cathedrals the size of Notre-Dame de Paris. The style of the cathedral is a perfect illustration of the transition from the classical Gothic to the more decorative "rayonnant" Gothic. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

 

Opening hours - daily from 8.30 a.m. - 5.15 p.m. | Admission - free of charge (guided tour: 6 EUR)

Saint-Leu, Amiens, Picardie
View of the Cathedral from Saint-Leu
Maison du Pèlerin, Amiens, Picardie
Maison du Pèlerin

HISTORY

The first stone of the cathedral was laid in 1220 by Bishop Evrard de Fouilloy. This piece of architecture was completed around 1290, meaning that it took only 70 years to be built: a relatively short time for such a gigantic work! By way of comparison, the construction of Notre-Dame de Paris took 182 years (from 1163 to 1345). It is important to know that three edifices had preceded it but that they were either destroyed or burnt. The Cathedral of Amiens was spared during the French Revolution and the two World Wars, which is almost miraculous!

Western facade of the cathedral
Western facade of the cathedral

EXTERIOR - AN ARCHITECTURAL MASTERPIECE

1. THE WEST FACADE AND THE PORTALS

As you can see in the photo above, the façade is divided horizontally into five parts. The first part  is that of the three main doorways. On the second level, you can see an openwork gallery with gothic arches and, on the third level, the Gallery of Kings composed of 22 life-size statues of the Kings of France. On the fourth is the Rose Gallery which depicts Christ surrounded by the symbolic characters of the Apocalypse. The two towers are linked by the Bell-ringers’ Gallery which supports the Musicians’ Gallery on the fifth level.

 

Vertically, the façade is divided vertically into three parts which correspond to the three doorways. The central doorway, called the "Portal of the Last Judgement", is dedicated to the "Beau Dieu" (more information about this portal below). The sculptures on the right-hand doorway are dedicated to the "Mère Dieu" or Virgin Mother. On this portal stands a series of six characters from the Old Testament who are none other than the ancestors of the Virgin. The death and assumption of the Virgin are also represented, as is her Coronation in Paradise. The left-hand doorway is called the "Portal of Saint Firmin" and is dedicated to Saint Firmin, who was martyred around the year 300 and is considered to be the first bishop of Amiens. On the lower part of this portal stands a series of medallions which are carved in the stone and feature an agrarian calendar that establishes a correspondence between the zodiac signs and the works of the months. This is also called the Picard calendar or the Amiens zodiac. The characters represented work in the countryside and wear different clothes according to the seasons.

Cathédrale d'Amiens, Cathedral of Amiens, Picardie
The three Portals on the West facade
Cathédrale d'Amiens, Amiens Cathedral
North facade
Portal of Saint Firmin, Amiens, Cathedrale d'Amiens, Amiens Cathedral
Statues of saints in the Portal of Saint Firmin

 Gallery of Kings, Gallerie des Rois, Rose window, Rosace, Amiens, Cathedrale d'Amiens, Amiens Cathedral
The Gallery of Kings and the Rose window

2. THE PORTAL OF THE LAST JUDGMENT

The central doorway, also called the "Portal of the Last Judgement", consists of many sculptures dedicated to the "Beau Dieu". As you can see on the photo below, between the two doors stands a statue of Christ the Savior, also known as the "Beau-Dieu d'Amiens". This statue is considered to be one of the most remarkable in the site. It represents Christ teaching, holding a closed book in his left hand and with his right hand he gives blessings. Rumour has it that the sculptor did not find the inspiration to make the statue and that God appeared to him in the middle of the night. The sculptor was found dead the next day with this statue at his side. On the Christ's sides stand the large statues of the twelve apostles surrounded by the four main prophets.

Portal of the Last Judgement, Portail du Jugement dernier, Cathédrale d'Amiens, Amiens Cathedral
The Portal of the Last Judgement

The photo below is a close-up of one of the most famous portal of the Cathedral, the "Portal of the Last Judgement", and more precisely of the tympanum, which is the semi-circular decorative wall located above the wooden doors. This particular tympanum is decorated with a representation of the scene of the Last Judgment. According to Christian traditions, this scene depicts the moments during which the dead are raised and then judged by Christ.

On the lower part of the tympanum, the resurrected come out of their tombs before Archangel St. Michael weigh their souls. In the middle, the sinners are separated from the good Christians and, completely naked and driven by demons, walk toward the mouth of a monster, Leviathan, which symbolizes Hell. The good Christians, on the other hand, walk to the right to Heaven. On the upper part, Christ on his throne is surrounded by the Virgin and Saint John, who kneel for the salvation of their souls.


Portal of the Last Judgement, Portail du Jugement dernier, Cathédrale d'Amiens, Amiens Cathedral
Close-up of the Representation of the Last Judgment

INTERIOR - A WELL-KEPT JEWEL

1. THE NAVE

Amiens Cathedral is as spectacular from the outside as it is from the inside. As you enter the cathedral, you quickly realize how high the vaults of the edifice are: up to 42 meters high in some places. The nave and transept were places where the public could worship, while the choir was reserved for the clergy. The nave was the first part of the Gothic cathedral to be built and was completed in a very short period of time: it was begun in 1220 and completed in 1236. The aisles of the nave, which are gigantic in size, are worthy of comparison with the main naves of some large churches.

Cathédrale d'Amiens, Cathedral of Amiens, Picardie
The 42-meter high nave

2. THE PULPIT OF TRUTH

The Cathedral's Pulpit of truth is a very impressive Baroque ensemble dating back to 1773. At its base, it is supported by life-size statues of the three theological virtues of FaithHope and Charity. In the background, an elegant drapery is supported by angels. The pulpit has a cloud-shaped roof from which a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, escapes. Finally, crowning the whole, an angel carrying an open Gospel and pointing a finger to heaven.

Pulpit of truth, Chaire de vérité, Cathédrale d'Amiens, Amiens Cathedral, Picardie
The Pulpit of truth
Cathédrale d'Amiens, Amiens Cathedral, Picardie
View of one of the aisle

3. THE LABYRINTH

The masterpiece of the paving of the Cathedral is an octagonal labyrinth located in the middle of the building, measuring 234 meters long. In the Middle Ages, some pilgrims used to follow the black path on their knees to reach its center in the manner of a "Way of the Cross". The labyrinth symbolizes the obstacles and the twists and turns of the journey to salvation, but also shows that with determination the journey is possible. This was a test for those who wanted to sanctify themselves, or to obtain graces, or to make reparation for the grave sins they had committed.

Labyrinthe, Labyrinth, Cathédrale d'Amiens, Cathedral of Amiens, Picardie
The 234-meter long labyrinth

4. THE CHOIR SCREEN

The Choir Screen depicts the story of Saint Firmin and is located on the side columns of the choir which are each divided into two horizontal levels: in total eight niches which tell the story of the saint. It reads from left to right, as in a book, and is called the "Choir screen". On the first niche, Firmin's arrival in Amiens is represented, then, on the second niche, we see Firmin preaching the new faith before he baptizes the faithful on the third niche. On the fourth and last niche, Firmin is arrested, judged and then secretly beheaded in his jail. There are other sculpted treasures, also called "screens", on the side columns of the choir such as the "Temple of Jerusalem screen" and the legend of James the Great.

Scenes from the life of St. Firmin and the tomb of Bishop Ferry de Beauvoir (1490–1530)
Scenes from the life of St. Firmin and the tomb of Bishop Ferry de Beauvoir (1490–1530)

5. THE LADY'S CHAPEL

The Lady's Chapel, also called "Notre-Dame-Drapière Chapel" is the largest and longest of the chapels: 15.25 meters deep. Its architecture looks a lot like the one of the Sainte-Chapelle de Paris. The name of this Chapel is quite interesting and comes from the fact that, for the construction of the cathedral, many donors who had become rich thanks to the drapery industry, made big donations. This enabled the Bishop to finance this gigantic building site, who then decided to pay tribute to these donors by naming the Chapel of the Virgin "Notre-Dame-Drapière". The stained glass windows which can be seen today date back to 1933 and depicts the life of the Virgin.

Cathédrale d'Amiens, Amiens Cathedral, Picardie
View of the nave from the Choir Screen
Lady's Chapel, Chapelle Notre-Dame-Drapière, Cathédrale d'Amiens, Amiens Cathedral, Picardie
The beautiful stained glass windows of the Lady's Chapel

THE LIGHT SHOW

During the 1990s, the western facade of the cathedral was cleaned using a laser process. This technique made it possible to discover that the facade was originally painted in multiple colours, putting an end to a long controversy according to which it was unthinkable that sacred representations could never have been painted. Sophisticated lighting techniques have been developed in order to accurately project these colours directly onto the façade, recreating the polychromatic appearance of the XIII century. Since 1999, every summer and during Christmas time, the Cathedral adorns with its most beautiful finery to offer the audience a majestic and colorful 50-minute show (Chroma Light Show).

Chroma, Cathédrale d'Amiens, Picardie, Light show, Cathedral of Amiens
Close-up of the Portal of the Last Judgment with colors
Chroma, Cathédrale d'Amiens, Picardie, Light show, Cathedral of Amiens
Overview of the cathedral during the Light Show

Chroma, Cathédrale d'Amiens, Picardie, Light show, Cathedral of Amiens
The Portal of the Last Judgement during the Light Show

HOW TO GET TO AMIENS?

Amiens is located in the Somme department in the Hauts-de-France region (former Picardie region). It is halfway between Paris and Lille. For this reason, the city is easily accessible by various means of transportation:

  • By car: around 1h30 drive from Paris (via A16 or A1 highways)1h40 from Lille (via A1 and A29 highways), 2h from Reims (via A26 and A19 highways) and 1h30 from Rouen (via A28 and A29 highways).
  • By train:  around 1 hour from Paris (more than 20 daily return trips) and 1h20 from Lille.

Amiens is therefore an ideal destination located at the crossroads of many cities. This allows you to get away from these big cities to enjoy a more peaceful day in the capital of Picardie.

Tour Perret
Tour Perret
Saint-Leu
Saint-Leu

OUR VERDICT

As I said above, Amiens is a French city that is totally underestimated! Make sure to check our post about Amiens to discover others famous sightseeing attractions (check it here).


And now it's your turn to share your experience, thoughts and also tips to visit Amiens. Have you already visited this city? Did you enjoy it? We look forward reading your comments in the section below.


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