Enchanted Chanting

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens is the third of the great cathedrals built in northern France during the thirteenth century (the others being the cathedrals in Reims and Chartres). Besides being the largest Gothic cathedral in France, it has an impressive set of medieval sculptures on its facade and many old polychrome sculptures inside. But the 16th-century choir stalls are one of its great treasures.

The choir stalls are located behind locked gates and are only available to visitors accompanied by a tour guide. Fortunately, we were admiring the stalls through the bars when one such guide approached to inform us of an upcoming tour. We had a personalized tour of these magnificent wood carvings a few minutes later.

The guide only spoke French, which did not diminish our experience. I tried to get him to use the Google Translate app on my phone in conversation mode, translating on the fly. He couldn’t grasp the concept but tried to speak English phrases during his turn in the conversation. We abandoned that effort and allowed him to explain things in French with English words sprinkled in.

He systematically took us through each side of the choir, explaining the stories engraved in wood on the stalls’ panels. It was relatively easy for us to interpret each vignette or scene because of our familiarity with the Bible and the year and a half of learning French with Duolingo. After a while, a French couple came to the gate, and the tour guide began a personalized tour for them with seemingly great relief while Lisa and I roamed around on our own.

More than four thousand carvings decorate the choir stalls. Like the sculpture inside and outside of the Cathedral, one could spend a significant amount of time studying these images. I photographed the ones that interested us, but I assume they are well-documented online. Regardless, the choir stalls of Amiens Cathedral are a must-see.

Traditionally choir members stood during mass, but these little seats – called “misericords” – allowed them to mercifully prop themselves up without violating church decorum.

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage