Amiens Cathedral – First Impressions
Amiens is a large and imposing building constructed on a low hill in the centre of Amiens. The shape is typical of medieval Gothic cathedrals in France with a long nave and two large, squarish towers. Above the roof at the junction of nave and transepts a tall, narrow spire rises. Similar to the 19th Century spire of Notre Dame de Paris, this one is somewhat more authentic, having been completed in 1533 after the original spire was destroyed by fire, and then shortened in 1627 after a wind storm.
The West Facade is decorated by a large collection of statuary as well as three decorated portals. There is also a fine entrance – the Portal of the Golden Virgin – in the south transept.
Amiens is known to have been a major destination for pilgrims since at least the beginning of the 12th Century CE. The first cathedral, built between 1137 and 1152, housed an important collection of relics, but rose to international prominence in 1206 when a relic believed to be the head of John the Baptist was acquired as a result of the Sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.
In 1218 Amiens Cathedral burned down. That same year the architect Robert de Luzarches was asked to design a new building to replace the Romanesque cathedral. The construction of the current Gothic cathedral began in 1220. It was substantially completed by 1269, though work continued after that on several projects: the tile labyrinth in the nave was installed in 1288, the North Tower was not competed until 1402, and it appears that the slightly shorter South Tower was capped rather than being completed in its intended form.
By the 16th Century Amiens Cathedral had been damaged by fire, storms and an exploding powder mill. An extensive work programme was instituted to repair, strengthen and update the structure. During these works the rose windows in the West Facade and South Transept were redone in the Flamboyant Gothic style.
A further restoration was completed during the 19th Century. The major effort was to repair or replace the statuary that had been damaged by weather and vandalized during the French Revolution.
Formal name: Basilique Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens
Style: The construction is French Gothic, with later additions in the Flamboyant style.
Patron Saint: Saint Firmin .
- Size. This is an impressively large building – the tallest complete cathedral in France. According to Wikipedia it also has the greatest interior volume of any French cathedral, estimated at 200,000 cubic metres. The soaring high vaults above the nave and transepts and the large windows give an impression of great space and light.
- Decoration. The exterior decorations, especially the statuary and portals on the West Wall, are outstanding. The interior boasts several baroque fixtures (including the pulpit and side altars) of exceptional quality. There is also a wealth of medieval carving including a life of St John the Baptist in deep bas-relief. And for Doctor Who fans, a Weeping Angel (Don’t look away!)
This is a very impressive building in every way. Using the Michelin system I would rate this as three stars: Worth a Journey.
Planning your visit
- Amiens Cathedral is open all year round, with the exception of
1 January, 1 May, the last Sunday in September, and 25 December. It is also closed on Sunday mornings and Tuesdays. Entry is free
- Photography is permitted (no flash)
- There is a shop but not a tearoom There are a number of cafés and restaurants in the vicinity. We had a very good lunch at the pub-brasserie Les III Maillets on the cathedral square.
- The city itself has an interesting downtown but we didn’t really have time to look around.
- The cathedral website is at this link
Amiens Cathedral Images
1. Plagnieux, Phillipe (2005) Cathedral of Notre-Dame Amiens (Éditions du patrimoine, Centre des monuments nationaux: Paris)
2. Bailly, Xavier (2008) Notre Dame Cathedral, Amiens (Editions Ouest-France: Rennes)