The color and delicacy of the glass in the choir of St.-Etienne requires no comment. It is 16C and the Leprince family are its master creators. The windows are lower than at the Cathedral and easier to photograph. The Tree of Jesse is the most celebrated example.
There is a“mechanical clock”in the North transept . Actually it is an astronomical clock. with over 90,000 parts. There is also one in Strasbourg Cathedral that was rebuilt in1842 on the works of an older simpler one of 1571. This one was built in the 1860’s by a local enginee, A.-L. Verite. It locates the positions of the planets, provides the current time in many cities around the world and acts out a Last Judgement (5 times a day). Nearby stands a simpler 16C clock. Try to inquire and drop by to see the action.
The fusion of a Romanesque nave and transepts with a Gothic choir was gracefully accomplished by creating a tall crossing tower which minimized the change from a squat three level nave with thick columns to a much taller Gothic apse. The blend is striking. (Note the 16C Deposition group in the nave).
St.-Etienne was once the town church. It was started in the 12C with Romanesque nave and transepts but was not finished until the early1500’s, when the Gothic choir and ambulatory were added (1506-22). The last addition was a bell-tower, badly needed by the town, for the west facade in the early 17C. Two items about the church are very important. In the Romanesque period the North transept received a novel decoration: a large circular window called a “Wheel of Fortune” (or Fate), a precursor to the Rose Window.(see our Tip here under General Information about this piece of art history). The second is the glass windows done by the Leprince family (1518-24) in the choir area. The same artists who did the Cathedral transepts. Here their “Tree of Jesse” is considered more than outstanding!
The west front has a recessed double door and tympanum. On the South side there is a beautiful Romanesque portal that needs more display of its grace. And on the North transept is the historically famous Wheel under a nice gable.
We visited the Tapestry Museum and were surprised at the expansion of the craft and art over the centuries, (At the time we were of meager knowledge and our pictures are limited in scope. The peak of Beauvais creativity was in the 18C when a local painter Jean-Baptiste Oudry was in charge. He, unlike most other artists understod the craft and its limitations and produced cartoons that could be efficiently executed (and modified cartoons of other artists as well). As a painter of ladnscapes and hunting scenes, he knew how to control details. He created series of cartoons from the Fables of La Fontaine which were in great demand. (I hope we illustrate one. Our selection attempts to be from different periods. We remember that the peacock was a hall-mark of the studios).
The two side of the cloister have a wooden covering. In addition one side supports the Chapter House. Next to it are the interesting remains of a 10C church which was where the new nave was to have been built. Instead this church continued to be used until all thoughts of further building had ceased. The cloister garden is enclosed by these structures.
The windows are dazzling. The glass is colorful and vivid and the tracery is impressive. There are 13C windows in the apse and fine 16C windows in the transepts, especially the South Rose Window, by master craftsmen of Beauvais named Leprince (1551) There are even modern ones by Max Ingrand (1954). In order to do them justice it requires literature (which we did not have) to locate the windows and spell out the stories (especially the Rose Window). The windows are very high up and photography requires a steady hand, a good camera and technic. We lacked all of these.
Most of central Beauvais is new, the consequence of W.W.II destruction. We walked from the Cathedral along rue St.-Pierre to the Tapestry Museum. Across the street we saw the remains of the St.-Barthelemy Church which has been converted into a Tourist Office which we should have visited first. (Does this still exist?). From there we headed down rue de la Taillerie until we reached the church of St.-Etienne.
The tall apse and choir were started in 1225 (shortly after Amiens began their church) and that part was finished in 1272 as the largest ever built. In 1284 part of the vault collapsed. At this time there were no building funds available Arguments about the reasons for the fall ensued and nothing more was done for almost 100 years. In the 14C it was decided that the buttressing was at fault and the number of arches in the inner ambulatory was doubled and a 6 -part vaulting was installed instead of the early 4-part one. In 1500 money was raised and the leading architect Martin Chambiges was engaged to create the transepts. Carried away, they next added a crossing tower with a giant spire (taller than that at Strasbourg) (1569). Since there was no nave to provide extra buttressing, this too collapsed in 1573! Subsequently the nave end was covered and this is how it has remained--naveless. The weakness of the choir must still be there but architects have never agreed about what it is. Metal reinforcements have been added in some places, but although the center of Beauvais was obliterated by bombings in 1940, the cathedral escaped significant damage and the vibrations did nothing to the structure.
Be aware that this 3* Michelin cathedral in Beauvais is by far the tallest Gothic cathedral in the world, and that is why it is unfnished. What fraction exists (choir and transepts, no nave) can easily accomodate the entire population (54K) of the city. It is a beautiful example of 13C Gothic. One enters through the 16C South Transept via doors of the same period.
Take a couple of hours to have a look around. Unfortunatly, I didn't have much time but it was enough to visit the two main churches of the town: St. Etienne and the cathedral. Both gotic style, very impressive.
The Town Hall was built in 1752 and is the location of where Marshal Ferdinand Foch (General of the Allied Armies) directed battle operations from the town hall in 1918.
The astronomical clock was made of a local master, Auguste-Lucien Vérité, in 1868.
It consists of more than 90.000 pieces and is 12 metres high.
The stained-glass windows behind the choir are the oldest in the cathedral. They date from the 13th century.
At the western end of the cathedral can we still see one of the very few remaining Carolingian churches in France. It dates from the end of the 10th century.