This is one big cathedral, inside being the tallest complete one in France, at almost 140 feet, and also has the largest interior. It dates from the very early 13th Century and was built to house the head of John the Baptist, allegedly brought back from the crusades.
The features that grab one’s eyes are the height inside and the incredibly comprehensive and detailed sculptural program on the façade and in the portals. Dr. William Cook, our inspiration for this trip, says that “The façade of Amiens Cathedral may well be the greatest single sculptural display in all of Gothic architecture.” Looking up at the ceiling which seems to be floating in the heavens, Dr. Cook also likes to remind us that it is made of rock. One of the aims of cathedral structures is to remind the devout of the grandeur of God and the smallness of man, and this one does that in spades. The stained glass inside is magnificent, but much of it is replacement of the lost originals. The sculpture inside is also wonderful but not original.
The west façade of the cathedral is amazing in its harmony and incredible detail. The three portals are under deep porches and the whole thing is topped with 3 galleries, a rose window and twin towers, all with intricately carved statuary. One of the things that impressed me is the sheer number of things depicted: Old Testament Kings, the minor prophets, the last judgment (with St. Francis leading the procession into heaven), the Tree of Jesse, the 12 Apostles, the wise and foolish virgins, the virtues and the vices, even the zodiac and Aesop’s fables as well as many more biblical scenes and figures. The portal of the Virgin is replete with scenes and events from her life and is fronted with “La Vierge Doree,” the Golden Virgin because her clothing was painted gold.
Juls Verne had married a woman from Amiens in 1857 and moved to the town in 1871, where he also died in March 1905. The house where they lived was known as "the house with the tower" because of the eye-cathing tower which can still be seen.
I wasn't tempted by the high entrance fee, so I just left without going in, therefore no pictures and not much information, alas.
A Romanesque cathedral built in this area was destroyed by fire in 1218. That gave the opportunity to the then bishop, Evrard de Fouilloy, to launch his big scale building plans. But before they could get started some other buildings, like the Church of Saint Firmin the Confessor, had to be removed to give space for the cathedral. The building works then started in 1225. Just 44 years later, in 1269, the stained-glass windows were installed in the centre of the apse, indicating the completion date of the main building works.
The dimensions of the cathedral are impressing: it is 145 m long, the transept is 70 m wide, the nave is 40 m wide and the height of the vaults is 42,3 m.
The cathedral is open to visitors all year round, April through September from 08.30 till 18.30 and October through March from 08.30 till 17.30.
The entrance is free of charge.
Along the canal will you find the oldest houses in Amiens, in the area callend Saint-Leu. They are called "maisons à pignon" in French, gabled houses in English. In the 17th century, the ground floor housed merchant's stands or workshops.
In 1406 was one of the first belfries in France built by wood. It was destroyed several times by fire, so in 1742 the edifice which we now can see was built. A belfry was the symbol of a free city.
It is open to visitors Sundays at 10.30 in the morning.
This s is one of largest private collections of stained-glass windows in France. It is located in an old house dating from the 16th century. The collection contains as well religious as civil windows from the 12th to the 20th centuries.
Every afternoon at 15.00 (except Sundays and bank holidays) there is the possibility to join a guided tour through the gallery. You will get informed about the theory and history before you can look at the creation of new windows. The tour is ONLY in French. On the internet site there says that there is an unaccompanied tour at 15.00 but that is wrong, you can come in only for this tour and it is accompanied.
The tour will last from 30 min to an hour, the admission for adults being 5 Euros, children 3 Euros.
Here's a link to a map.
In the nave we can admire two bronze tombstones, each one created in one block in the 13th century. There are Evrard de Fouilloy (the bishop who launched the building project of the Cathedral) and his successor Geoffroy d'Eu, buried.
Saint Firmin was the first bishop of Amiens in the 3rd century. (Amiens was at that time a Roman town called Samarobriva.) The reliefs tells about his life and doings, until he got caught by the roman soldiers and was beheaded.
The reliefs were sculptured between 1490 and 1530.
At the back of the choir, just opposite the stained-glass windows from 1269, there is a little but famous angel, sitting and weeping. He sits on the mausoleum of the canon Gulian Lucas. The legend has it that the dead canon's family had ordered the famous sculptor Nicolas Blasset to erect a marble mausoleum. So he did, but afterwards, when the family got the invoice, they were not at all satisfied. They thought it to be much too expensive, so they sued Blasset. To avoid paying the fines, he added this little angel as a "bonus" for free.
Every year since 1999 now, has there been an extrordinary show every night from June 1 till the third Sunday of September plus December 1 till January 1, showing the Cathedral's statues and smaller figures lit up by laser to show what it looked like in the Medieval times when it was all newly painted.
The show starts when "the night falls", which is in June set to be at 22.45, in July at 22.30, in August at 22.00, in September at 21.45 and in December at 19.00. The shows lasts for just less than an hour and is, of course, free of charge.
For more pictures, see my Travelogue.
We didn't arrive early enough to visit the interior of the cathedral so we just had a look at the exterior which is covered with gargoyles (water spouts) and grotesques (decorative), the exterior is very ornate with all kinds of carvings of saints. It's the largest cathedral in France, bigger than the better known cathedrals at Chartres and Notre Dame in Paris. Construction started in 1220 and was completed around 1270. The cathedral was built to house the head of St. John the Baptist. The cathedral was resotred in the 1850s by Viollet-le-Duc who also restored Notre Dame in Paris
The website for the cathedral says its open Apr-Sept 8:30am-6:30pm; Oct-Mar daily 8:30am-5:30pm and admission is free. Also mentioned in some reviews is that there is a light show in the evening and there are tours of the cathedral for a fee, see the attached website for details.
To the east of Amiens is the city of Peronne where we visited the Historial de la Grande Guerre (Historial Museum of the Great War). I didn't think this museum was at interesting as the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium but it is worth a stop if you are interested in WWI history. The museums consists of display cases with war memorabilia, short films and some documents and displays with uniforms and supplies that the men would have had during the Battle of the Somme. There's also a display of Otto Dix drawings and a movie which I didn't watch. The display cases are trilingual-English, French and German.
Open every day from 10 am to 6 pm, closed every year from mid-December to mid-January. Admission is Adults: 7.50 €, over 60: 6.20 €, children (6-18 years old), veterans, teachers, students, employment seekers: 3.80 €, Family pass (2 adults and up to 2 children): 20 €
Our hotel had a Visitor's Guide to the Battlefields on their brochure table listing the many sites you can visit from the Battlefields of the Somme during WWI. The British front was between the cities of Albert and Peronne to the east of Amiens and there is a Circuit of Rememberence between the two cities. The guide is very good, it gives a history of the area and lists the sites as exceptional, very interesting, interesting or of secondary interest. We didn't have all day so we picked just one, the Historial of the Great War in Peronne. If we had more time, we would have likely also visited Thiepval to see the Franco-British Memorial which was the suggestion of our hotel. There are also memorials to the Australians, South Africans and Newfoundlanders that fought in the Somme.
It's absolutely HUGE, you should be able to fit FOUR St Paul's Cathedrals inside it, should you so choose. I must admit I have not expected something quite so large, it took ages to walk round it. It is also FREE to enter, if you are on a budget.
It was very interesting inside, lots of side shoots off into gated and barred niches containing an altar and chairs for worshipping. Sadly we were not fortunate enough to hear the organ playing that day, but it must have sounded magnificent when it was played.
I won't bore you with the extensive history, we'd be here all day if I recounted it from the 13th Century, but you can get most of it from the website below. I tried other websites, but they were all too flashy and hi-tech for me.
Just in front of the two bronze tombstones there is a maze in black marble. It is 234 m long and used to serve as an initiation journey for the faithful. They should follow the black line and be aware of their thoughts.
The maze we can see is a copy, the original one from 1288 is now in the Museum of Picardie.