Monday, August 31, 2009

La Cathédrale de Beauvais, France

The Beauvais Cathedral (in French, Cathédrale St-Pierre de Beauvais) is both magnificent and unfinished. After a series of disastrous fires, the wooden structures of earlier versions started to give way to the present stone edifice in 1225. However, a deadly mixture of war and political disputes with central government dried up funding for this ambitious undertaking. Subsequent efforts to finish the cathedral, at least enough of it to be useful, resulted in the present areas known as the choir, the apse and its chapels, and the transept. Since work on the nave never commenced, you now enter the cathedral primarily through doors which take you directly into the transept.

Located in the North of France, the Cathedral of Beauvais could boast of having vaulted ceilings which, at the time, were higher than those of any Gothic structure in the land (42m). The choir was finally completed in 1272, but part of its ceiling collapsed in 1284 and had to be rebuilt. The transept was completed in 1548, but its enormous tower collapsed in 1573. Builders were realizing that these ambitious heights were taking Gothic architectural designs and techniques to their very limits, and beyond. Nevertheless, even today, the choir with its tremendous columns, vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows can only inspire admiration and engender contemplation and meditation. No other structure of the time drew the eye heavenward quite as successfully as did this cathedral.

The choir as seen from the transcept.

Choir and transcept