Saint -Pierre de Beauvais Cathedral - Skipping About the Continent - CycleBlaze

July 29, 2022

Saint -Pierre de Beauvais Cathedral

For me, the La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais will always be the Icarus Cathedral – a Cathedral whose builders had lofty ambitions that ultimately led to collapse. The ambition was to erect the largest and tallest gothic cathedral in France, one that would be bigger and grander than the nearby Amiens cathedral that was being built at the same time.

In racing to realize their ambition, the builders of the Beauvais Cathedral pushed the limits of the current technology but made costly errors. For example, even though the choir vault was to be the tallest ever, they made the buttresses thinner so as allow maximum light into the interior of the church. A consequence was the collapse of the vault in 1284, believed to have been caused by “resonant vibrations due to high winds.”. The vault was rebuilt with additional support columns, and the transept was completed in 1548, with a central tower reaching 502 feet. However, the tower collapsed in 1573, and further construction of the Cathedral was halted. 

Today, the Cathedral remains unfinished; only the choir and transept were completed and there is no nave. Over time, additional structural problems have been revealed, some of which are not easily fixed. Laser scans were done to identify all the structural weaknesses in the building and several ongoing studies are looking into ways to preserve the structure.

 The ambitions of the original builders were partially achieved – the Beauvais Cathedral has the highest Gothic choir in the world, and the 153 meter tower was, at one time, the highest man-made structure in the world. The exterior of the building is grand, and the height of the interior does inspire awe. But I couldn’t help feeling chagrined at the myriad of trusses and supports that were holding the building up. I didn’t stay long inside, much preferring the exterior façade.

Note: The information about the cathedral as well as the floor plans comes from the Wikipedia.

The south facade of the Beauvais Cathedral
Heart 3 Comment 0
The southeast view. The human visitors can give you an appreciation of the size and scale of the cathedral
Heart 4 Comment 1
Keith AdamsIt's actually *too* big. The supporting structure interferes with the main building IMO.
Reply to this comment
1 week ago
The chevet of the Beauvais Cathedral
Heart 3 Comment 0
The north portal
Heart 2 Comment 0
On the west side of the Cathedrale, the small Basse Oeuvre, constructed in the 10th century, remains in the space originally intended for the Cathedrale nave.
Heart 1 Comment 0
A comparison of the current and original floor plans of the Beauvais Cathedral
Heart 0 Comment 0

A very, very small sampling of the detailing on the exterior of the Cathedral

Carvings on the south portal
Heart 5 Comment 0
The south portal
Heart 1 Comment 0
On the south facade
Heart 2 Comment 0
Light reflected through one of the many stained glass windows in the choir vault
Heart 1 Comment 0
Steel rods provide additional support to the flying buttresses
Heart 2 Comment 0

Two things struck me on entering the cathedral - the overall height of the vault and the presence of wood and steel structural supports. The pictures below only partially capture the majesty of the interior. I did not do a good job documenting many aspects of the interior of the Cathedral as I was taken aback by the outward manifestations of structural instability.

A look across the north transept
Heart 2 Comment 0
Light reflected from the stain glass windows dances atop the columns supporting the vault
Heart 5 Comment 0
Looking up at the choir vault
Heart 5 Comment 1
Scott AndersonIncredible. We never made it inside.
Reply to this comment
1 week ago
Another view of the choir vault
Heart 1 Comment 0
Chapel of Saint Joan of Arc
Heart 1 Comment 0
The Cathedral organ
Heart 4 Comment 0
A look across the north transept showing structural supports
Heart 0 Comment 0
Supports at base of south transept
Heart 0 Comment 0
Supported arches along south ambulatory
Heart 0 Comment 0
Rate this entry's writing Heart 7
Comment on this entry Comment 1
Lucy MartinThe Hubris Cathedral. What survives is beautiful if structurally unsound. Great pictures!
Reply to this comment
1 week ago