As someone who grew up in Amiens, I can tell you that the Cathedral of Amiens is truly a sight to behold! This stunning Gothic masterpiece is one of the largest and most impressive cathedrals in Europe, and it holds a special place in the hearts of those who call Amiens home. As you step inside the cathedral, you'll be struck by its grandeur, from its towering height to its intricate sculptures and stunning stained glass windows. For me, the Cathedral of Amiens is not just a beautiful landmark, but a symbol of the rich cultural heritage of my hometown. So come along with me as we explore this remarkable piece of French cultural heritage!
If there's one thing you absolutely can't miss in Amiens, it's the cathedral – the city's iconic masterpiece of grandeur, magnificence, and sheer architectural wonder. While some people may draw parallels with Notre-Dame de Paris, the Cathedral of Amiens is truly in a league of its own. With a façade adorned with countless sculptures and statues, it's a visual feast that will leave you spellbound.
The sheer scale of the cathedral is awe-inspiring - towering 42.30 meters high under the vaults and stretching 145 meters in length, it's the largest cathedral in France in terms of interior volume, boasting a whopping 200,000 cubic meters – enough to fit two Notre-Dame de Paris cathedrals inside! Its breathtaking blend of classical Gothic and "rayonnant" Gothic styles makes it a perfect example of a transitional period in architecture. It's no wonder that it was added to UNESCO's World Heritage list in 1981.
| Opening hours - daily from 8.30 a.m. - 5.15 p.m. |
| Admission - free of charge (guided tour: 6 EUR) |
The Cathedral of Amiens is not only a magnificent example of Gothic architecture but also a testament to the determination and skill of its builders. The first stone of this grand edifice was laid in 1220 by Bishop Evrard de Fouilloy, and the cathedral was completed around 1290 – an impressive feat given its size and complexity. To put this into perspective, it took 182 years to build Notre-Dame de Paris, which began construction in 1163 and wasn't completed until 1345. It's worth noting that three previous structures had occupied the site of the current cathedral, but they were all destroyed by fires or other disasters. Despite these setbacks, the builders of the Cathedral of Amiens persevered, creating a work of art that still stands today.
This cathedral has also witnessed some of the most tumultuous events in French history, yet it miraculously survived them all. During the French Revolution, many religious buildings were destroyed, but the Cathedral of Amiens was spared – a testament to its cultural and historical significance. The cathedral also miraculously escaped damage during both World War I and World War II, despite being in close proximity to several major battlefields. Today, it continues to stand as a symbol of the resilience and endurance of the people of Amiens, and a magnificent example of the grandeur of Gothic architecture.
EXTERIOR - AN ARCHITECTURAL MASTERPIECE
1. WEST FAÇADE AND PORTALS
The photo above provides a visual glimpse of the stunning façade of the Cathedral of Amiens, which is divided horizontally into five distinct sections. The lower part comprises three main doorways, while the second level features an openwork gallery adorned with gothic arches. Moving up to the third level, one can admire the impressive Gallery of Kings, featuring 22 life-size statues of the Kings of France. Above that, the fourth level boasts the captivating Rose Gallery, depicting Christ and the symbolic characters of the Apocalypse. Finally, the two towers of the cathedral are connected by the Bell-ringers’ Gallery, which supports the Musicians’ Gallery on the fifth and highest level.
The façade of the Cathedral of Amiens is not only horizontally divided into five parts but also vertically divided into three sections, each with its unique dedication and intricate sculptures. The central doorway, called the "Portal of the Last Judgement," is dedicated to the "Beau Dieu" and features sculptures that depict the Last Judgement. The scene is set with Christ seated in the center, and the souls of the dead being judged and sent to either heaven or hell. The sculptures on the right-hand doorway are dedicated to the "Mère Dieu," the Virgin Mother. Here, one can see a series of six characters from the Old Testament, who are the ancestors of the Virgin. The death, assumption, and coronation of the Virgin are also represented in this section.
The left-hand doorway, called the "Portal of Saint Firmin," is dedicated to Saint Firmin, the first bishop of Amiens who was martyred around 300 AD. The lower part of this doorway features a series of medallions carved in stone that depict an agrarian calendar, known as the Picard calendar or Amiens zodiac. The medallions show the correlation between zodiac signs and the seasonal work of the months, with characters wearing different clothes according to the season.
2. THE PORTAL OF THE LAST JUDGMENT
The central doorway, referred to as the "Portal of the Last Judgement," features an array of sculptures dedicated to the "Beau Dieu," which includes a notable statue of Christ the Savior positioned between the two doors. Known as the "Beau-Dieu d'Amiens," it is considered one of the most remarkable sculptures at the site. The statue portrays Christ teaching while holding a closed book in his left hand and blessing with his right hand. Legend has it that the sculptor was unable to find the inspiration to create the statue and that God appeared to him in the middle of the night. The sculptor was then discovered dead the following day with the statue by his side. The statue of Christ is flanked by large statues of the twelve apostles, with the four principal prophets surrounding them.
The photo below displays a close-up of the "Portal of the Last Judgement," one of the most famous portals of the cathedral. Specifically, it shows the tympanum, which is the semi-circular decorative wall above the wooden doors. The scene on this tympanum represents the Last Judgment, depicting the dead being raised and judged by Christ. The lower part of the tympanum shows the resurrected emerging from their tombs, being weighed by Archangel St. Michael. In the middle, sinners are separated from good Christians, and the damned are driven toward the mouth of a monster, symbolizing Hell. The saved walk toward Heaven on the right. The upper part shows Christ on his throne, surrounded by the Virgin and Saint John kneeling for their salvation.
INTERIOR - A WELL-KEPT JEWEL
Amiens Cathedral is a stunning masterpiece both inside and out. Upon entering, visitors are immediately struck by the height of the vaults, which can reach up to 42 meters in certain areas. The nave and transept were designed for public worship, while the choir was reserved for clergy. The Gothic cathedral's nave was the first section to be constructed, and it was completed rapidly, between 1220 and 1236. The nave's aisles are enormous and can be favorably compared to those of many large churches.
2. PULPIT OF TRUTH
Dating back to 1773, the Baroque Pulpit of Truth in the Cathedral is an impressive ensemble. It is supported at its base by life-size statues of the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. The pulpit is adorned with an elegant drapery that is supported by angels in the background. The cloud-shaped roof of the pulpit features a dove, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit. Finally, an angel holding an open Gospel and pointing towards heaven crowns the entire pulpit.
The Cathedral's remarkable octagonal labyrinth, spanning 234 meters in length, serves as its centerpiece. During the Middle Ages, some pilgrims would follow the black path of the labyrinth on their knees, as a form of devotion similar to the "Way of the Cross". The labyrinth represents the challenges and difficulties of the journey towards salvation, while also demonstrating that perseverance can lead to success. It was a test of devotion for those seeking to purify themselves, seek graces or make amends for grave sins.
4. CHOIR SCREEN
The story of Saint Firmin is depicted on the Choir Screen located on the side columns of the choir, which are divided into two horizontal levels. In total, there are eight niches that tell the story of the saint, reading from left to right like a book. The first niche portrays Firmin's arrival in Amiens, followed by his preaching of the new faith and baptism of the faithful on the second and third niches, respectively. Finally, on the fourth and last niche, Firmin is shown being arrested, judged, and secretly beheaded in his jail.
In addition to the Choir Screen that depicts the story of Saint Firmin, there are other impressive sculpted screens located on the side columns of the choir in Amiens Cathedral. One of these is the "Temple of Jerusalem screen," which shows the exterior of the temple, as well as its interior with the ark of the covenant and the menorah. The other notable screen is the "legend of James the Great," which depicts the life of the apostle James and the events following his death. These screens are considered to be significant examples of Gothic art and are highly valued for their historical and cultural significance.
5. LADY'S CHAPEL
The largest and longest chapel in Amiens Cathedral is the Lady's Chapel, which is also known as the "Notre-Dame-Drapière Chapel". Its architectural style bears a resemblance to that of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. The name of the chapel is derived from the fact that during the construction of the cathedral, wealthy donors from the drapery industry made significant donations to finance the project. In recognition of their contributions, the Bishop decided to name the Chapel of the Virgin "Notre-Dame-Drapière". The stained glass windows in the chapel, which portray the life of the Virgin, date back to 1933.
CHROMA LIGHT SHOW
Amiens Cathedral underwent a laser cleaning process in the 1990s that revealed the original polychromatic appearance of its western facade. The discovery put an end to a long-standing controversy about whether or not sacred representations could have been painted. To recreate the facade's colorful appearance from the 13th century, sophisticated lighting techniques were developed, which accurately project the colors directly onto the facade.
Since 1999, the Cathedral has been adorned with its most beautiful finery every summer and during Christmas time, to offer visitors a majestic and colorful 50-minute show called the Chroma Light Show. During the show, the facade of the Cathedral is transformed into a vibrant canvas of light and color, taking viewers on a journey through the history and symbolism of the Cathedral's art and architecture. The Chroma Light Show has become a popular attraction, drawing crowds of locals and tourists alike who come to witness the Cathedral's spectacular transformation.
HOW TO GET TO AMIENS?
Amiens, the capital of Picardie, is situated in the Somme department of the Hauts-de-France region (formerly known as Picardie). The city is conveniently located midway between Paris and Lille, making it easily accessible through various transportation modes. By train, it takes around 1 hour from Paris (with more than 20 daily return trips) and 1 hour and 20 minutes from Lille. Alternatively, by car, it takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to drive from Paris, 1 hour and 40 minutes from Lille, 2 hours from Reims, and 1 hour and 30 minutes from Rouen.
With its strategic location, Amiens is an ideal destination that serves as a hub connecting various cities. It offers a peaceful retreat from the bustling big cities, allowing visitors to spend a relaxing day in the heart of Picardie.
OUR FINAL THOUGHTS
As mentioned earlier, Amiens is often overlooked by tourists but has so much to offer! Be sure to check out our previous post here about Amiens to discover other famous sightseeing attractions and hidden gems that the city has to offer. Trust us, you won't regret embarking on a day trip to Amiens, a hidden gem filled with stunning architecture, rich history, and cultural treasures waiting to be discovered!
Now it's time for you to share your personal experience, insights, and helpful tips for visiting Amiens. Have you had the chance to explore this charming city? If so, did you have a great time? We would love to hear about your adventures in the comments section below.