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At Home and In Paris

Updated: Oct 15, 2023

What is the tallest Gothic structure in the world?


Many friends have asked me, "What is it with you and Catholic churches?" That's certainly not a strange question to ask, since I'm a nice Jewish girl who hadn't set foot in a Catholic church until she was 30 years old. Perhaps this post might give you a sense of why I have become so enthusiastic about visiting France's tremendous Catholic churches and cathedrals. To sum it up in a few words , these magnificent relics of what was once a very Catholic country offer all the things I love about this place that I've made my home for the past seven years: architecture, art, castles, choirs, music, museums, opera and organs, and most importantly the history of France that runs through each story told by every one of these elegant edifices. After publishing my last post, we visited a small town called Beauvais. As usual, I set my GPS to take us directly to the center of town,

which usually hosts the most well-known church or cathedral and, of course, the Mairie or town hall. Beauvais is a city in the northern French prefecture of the Oise department in the Hauts-de-France region, 75 kilometers (47 miles) north of Paris. Beauvais has a population of nearly 58,000, making it the most populous city in the Department of Oise and the third most populous in Picardy. In 1346, the city had to defend itself against the English, who again besieged the town in 1433, and in 1472, it was assaulted at the hands of the Duke of Burgundy.



During that battle, it was rendered famous by the heroism of the town's women under the leadership of Jeanne Hachette, whose memory is still celebrated by a procession on June 27 (the feast of Sainte Angadrême), during which women take precedence over men! Of course, Beauvais was also extensively damaged during World War I and again in World War II during the German advance on Paris in June 1940. Much of the older part of the city was all but destroyed, and the cathedral was severely damaged before being liberated by British forces on August 30, 1944. Dedicated to Saint Peter, the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais is in some respects the most daring achievement of Gothic architecture, consisting only of a transept and quire with an apse and seven apse-chapels. The vaulting in the interior exceeds 46m or 150 feet in height. In 2008 the cathedral underwent a major repair and restoration process. The small Romanesque church of the 10th century, known as the Basse Oeuvre, occupied the site destined for the nave; much of its east end was demolished to make room for the new cathedral.

Undertaken beginning in 1247 under Bishop William of Grès, an extra 5 meters (16 feet) were added to the height to make it the tallest cathedral in Europe. However, the work was interrupted in 1284 by the collapse of the vaulting of the choir. This disaster produced a temporary failure of nerve among the masons working in this Gothic style. The transept was built from 1500 to 1548, and in 1573 the fall of a too-ambitious central tower stopped work, after which little in the way of addition was made. The cathedral's façades, especially those on the south (pictured above), exhibit all the richness of the late Gothic style. The carved wooden doors of both the north and the south portals are masterpieces of Gothic and Renaissance artistry respectively. The church boasts an elaborate astronomical clock (1866), tapestries from the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, and a very unusually decorated Asp Chapel below on the left.

But its chief artistic treasures are stained glass windows of the thirteenth, fourteenth and sixteenth centuries; the most beautiful of them are from the hand of the Renaissance artist Engrand Le Prince, a native of Beauvais.

Le Prince is also credited with some stained glass in St. Etienne, the town's second church, an exciting example of the transition stage between the Romanesque and Gothic styles. My favorite Le Prince window in the Etienne of Beauvais is the Tree of Jesse below.





The jewel of the interior of the Saint Pierre is the astronomical clock that was built between 1865 and 1868 by the famous clockmaker Auguste Vérité, and was based on his model for the Strasbourg clock. Brought to life by a light display, the clock contains an utterly impressive 90,000 components and 68 magical clockwork figures as an extraordinary part of those! The faces of the clock indicate the time, tides, and movement of the stars in the night skies as well.







The cathedral is also home to a beautiful medieval chiming clock. Dating back to 1305, this is the oldest clock in the world still continuously working. Such treasures inspire awe and make Disneyland -- the Magic Kingdom of my childhood -- seem like a cheap knock-off of the most remarkable sights of France, let alone Europe as a whole.



From written descriptions or photos alone, one can never imagine what beauty lies inside a single building, and the views of the exterior seem neverending and varied as you walk about on a nice day, or sit and stare, mesmerized.






After we'd had our fill of beauty and history for the morning, we stopped for an unremarkable bite at a cafe that was a block deep and was still open after all the notables had closed their kitchens, but from there we could get a good look at The Mairie or City Hall of Beauvais. The only other thing remarkable about the cafe was the sign in the window. Translated, it read, "I say such smart things that sometimes I don't even know what I'm saying." The sign reminds me that sometimes I should end my post with something like this photo of a 'small-town' City Hall before I begin to speak nonsense. I promise to follow shortly with more of my excellent adventures.



Spoiler: I'll share our visit to Auvers-Sur-Oise, the town where Vincent Van Gogh worked and died, and so many other impressionists spent at least some part of their artistic lives. Then on to Chateau-Landon where we missed the opening hours of the Church and strayed from our path for an accidental visit to a small town named Ferrières-en-Gâtinais with some amazing surprises, along with great food at Le Cheval Blanc, a restauant that Ted had chosen. So stay tuned for the next post😊



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