A masterpiece of engineering and Gothic structure carried to a daring extreme, Amiens’ Notre-Dame Cathedral is also the biggest cathedral in France. Constructing work began round 1220 and took only 50 years, financed by income from the cultivation of woad, a plant valued for its blue dye. Constructed to accommodate the head of St. John the Baptist brought back from the Crusades, which continues to be on display, the cathedral grew to become a magnet for pilgrims. After restoration by the architect Viollet-le-Duc within the mid- nineteenth century, and miraculously surviving two world wars, the cathedral is known for its wealth of statues and reliefs.
CONSTRUCTING AMIENS CATHEDRAL
The cathedral was designed by the French architect Robert de Luzarches, and inspired by the Gothic cathedral at Reims, France. Work started in 1220 and by 1236, the facade, Rose Window, and portals have been finished. By this stage, the architect Thomas de Cormont had taken over from de Luzarches, who had died prematurely in about 1222. De Cormont directed the constructing of the choir and apse. The cathedral was completed by 1270 and this speed of execution maybe explains the constructing’s coherence and purity of style. Analysis has proven that the figures on the gorgeous west portal would initially have been brightly painted. Modern laser technology has enabled experts to evaluate the original coloring of the sculptures, and a light show is placed on periodically to illuminate the portal, re-creating how it might have appeared over seven hundred years ago.
Like all Gothic church buildings, Amiens Cathedral is richly embellished. Sculpture served to detract attention from structural options, making an advantage out of a necessity, as with grotesque gargoyles that disguise waterspouts, or natural types adorning columns. Even where the carvings wouldn’t be seen at close hand, they had been nonetheless produced with great talent and care. Amiens’ choir stalls alone are adorned with more than 4,000 wooden carvings of figures, many representing local trades of the day, residents of Amiens and biblical figures.
The famend architect and theorist Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc worked on the restoration of the cathedral within the 1850s. Skilled in both architecture and medieval archeology, he was a number one figure in France’s Commission for Historical Monuments, which undertook early restoration work on many architectural landmarks, together with Notre-Dame in Paris.