Picardy: The Cradle of Gothic Architecture
Its geographical position between Flanders and England and its semi-agricultural, semi-industrial way of life have made Picardy one of the most densely populated parts of France. There is a village or small town at every cross-roads and every railway or canal junction. Important towns such as Abbeville, La Fère, and above Amiens also grew up around the bridges which spanned Picardy's broad rivers.
Amiens, the capital of western Picardy, was badly damaged in World War II. Rebuilt by the French architect Auguste Perret, it received a modern 30-storey tower, taller than the spire of its great cathedral, though less spiritually inspiring. Gothic architecture was born in Picardy, perhaps at Morienval, near Crépy-en-Valois, where an unpretentious and somewhat heavy example of the style can be seen in the ambulatory of the Abbey Church of Notre-Dame.
Reacting against the Romanesque Style, whose austere purity it sought to replace with a soaring aspiration towards the divine, Gothic architecture took firm root in Picardy, after this modest beginning. With its six cathedrals, the province has an outstanding place in the history of medieval architecture. Picardy's modern Départements - the Aisne, Oise and Somme - thus have more cathedrals than any other Départements in France.
Amiens Cathedral Notre-Dame is the largest in France and possibly one of the most moving. Its stones, carvings, stained glass windows (unfortunately damaged by war) and its magnificent grand rose window express the mystery of faith with indescribable profundity. The stalls are carved with thousands of figures from the Bible and everyday life. The figure of the Christ between the central doors of the main portal, known as the Beau Dieu d'Amiens, displays all the feeling and inner force of a religion which, while searching for intellectual depth, nevertheless seeks to maintain contact with its congregation of believers. On the base of the west front, the labours of the twelve months of the year are depicted, along with the sings of the zodiac. The meticulous and spirited craftsmanship of this calendar, that shows many aspects of life in 13th century Picardy, has won it a well-deserved reputation as one of the greatest masterpieces of medieval art. Notre-Dame d'Amiens has its labyrinth and a rare statue of Saint-Christopher on the façade. In the Middle-Ages all great cathedrals had one. Only Amiens cathedral still has its own.
Abbey-Church of Morienval, France, where the Gothic was born.
Choir of the Abbey-Church Notre-Dame de Morienval.
The transept and north rose window, Cathedral Notre-Dame of Amiens.
Windows and buttresses of the apse, Cathedral Notre-Dame of Amiens. The triumph of the Gothic.
The Beau Dieu of the Cathedral Notre-Dame of Amiens.
Gemini, one of the signs of the complete zodiac on the left portal at Notre-Dame of Amiens.
Rose window of the west façade. Cathedral Notre-Dame of Amiens.
The labyrinth and choir, Cathedral Notre-Dame d'Amiens.
Saint-Christopher with the Holy Child on his shoulders, south side of the façade.
Amiens Cathedral Notre-Dame.