Amiens Cathedral: Almost Heaven

The scale of Notre-Dame d’Amiens is hard to comprehend, a familiar experience when visiting Gothic cathedrals. Church architecture for medieval people served a didactic function; in other words, the building was a sermon. Approaching and entering such a structure is like accessing Heaven. It is simply impossible not to become transfixed at some level. Even repeat visits can’t quench the transcendent spirit of the church.

The sculpture and reliefs on the facade and interior of Amiens Cathedral were the most intriguing to us (besides those of Chartres Cathedral). They are rich in narrative and symbolism and “may well be the greatest single sculptural display in all of Gothic architecture.”* Like medieval pilgrims, we were caught up in biblical and church history while admiring them. We watched Professor Cook’s lecture and Smarthistory’s video on Amiens Cathedral several times beforehand (Smarthistory also has a companion article about the Cathedral).

We scheduled a week in Amiens so we could repeatedly visit the Cathedral. Each time we returned, something new and marvelous grabbed our attention. Lisa inspected and sketched the quatrefoils and statuary while I took Professor Cook’s advice to study the Cathedral’s features from various perspectives.

Near the beginning of our week-long stay, we chose to climb the towers. It was a little windy, so the woman at the Cathedral’s tourist office had to send a staff member up to ensure it was safe for visitors. Thankfully it was and cost just under €20 for both of us – worth every euro cent.

You enter the south tower through a door just inside the south portal on the western facade. There you climb up a narrow spiral staircase (similar to those in castles) until you reach a passage that takes you outside behind the Gallery of Kings and in front of the rose window. Just wow. I never imagined I would ever be so close to a rose window. We only saw one other couple exploring the towers. We asked them if they would take our photo by the rose window. The man was too scared to return to take the picture, but the woman boldly agreed.

From the rose window, you walk straight toward the north tower and enter a door leading to another spiral staircase up to the highest part of the Cathedral, the pinnacle of the north tower. The scout from the office awaited us at the top. After a mandatory “Bonjour,” we implemented Professor Cook’s recommendation and examined spires, buttresses, and panoramas from every angle possible, ignoring the wind and cold.

The outside of Amiens Cathedral is breathtaking, but the inside is stunning, which I will share in my next post.

*Footnote: The Cathedral Course Guidebook by William R. Cook, Ph.D.

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage