Amiens Cathedral, northern France

The higher the ceiling, the closer to God.

Something like that idea must have been the motivation behind the medieval compulsion to make cathedrals taller and taller.   There were a few taller cathedrals built than Amiens, but only the never-completed one at Beauvais is still standing.  All the rest fell down, leaving Amiens as the tallest complete gothic cathedral.

So this fabulous church is the high point (literally) of the prolific church building efforts between the 11th and 14th centuries.  This one defines the limits of medieval engineering skills.  Which were pretty amazing, if you remember that engineers in the middle ages didn’t even have calculators to help them try to estimate stresses and loads, let alone computers.

And what a wonderful building this is.  It is the lightest, airiest, most soaring interior space you will ever walk into, and it is simply breathtaking.  Awe inspiring.  Which I guess was the point.

The nave of Amiens cathedral

The nave of Amiens cathedral

The interior of Amiens cathedral, looking up to the point where the transept crosses the nave.

The interior of Amiens cathedral, looking up to the point where the transept crosses the nave.

One of the reasons Amiens is so much lighter and airier than most gothic cathedrals is that most of the windows are clear glass, not stained glass.  This was not always so.  Amiens had fabulous stained glass windows once upon a time, but only a few now remain.  To protect them during the First World War (1914-18), the windows were all removed and stored.  The cathedral itself emerged from the war unscathed, but the studio where the windows were stored burnt to the ground, destroying most of the precious windows, including the oldest ones.

How sad.  But, however much I love stained glass windows, the lack of them here does give this church a very different and special feel.

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  1. Gaudi’s masterpiece – 2 | Enthusiastical

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