Amiens Cathedral Exterior Model
The Amiens frontispiece features the “classic” Gothic combination of three great portals and two towers similar to that of Laon Cathedral (c.1200). Unlike such prototypes, however, the Amiens towers are modest in height and rectangular in plan, not square. The Amiens frontispiece, begun c.1220 by Master Robert de Luzarches, was constructed rapidly up to the cornice over the rose window including the lower belfries: bells were hanging in the south belfry in 1243. The upper parts of the towers were built later: the north side c.1360s and the south c.1400.
The western part of the cathedral is called the “nave,” derived from the Latin, navis, because of its resemblance to an upturned boat. The main vessel, rising to a height of 42m is flanked by side aisles. The outer buttresses are extended vertically to form free- standing uprights or culées bearing arched props or flying buttresses, which support the high vaults. Note the enormous windows in the aisles and upper nave, the latter known as the clerestory. Master Robert de Luzarches laid out the lower nave in the 1220s; the upper nave was completed by Master Thomas de Cormont 1230s-1240s.
Intersecting at a point half-way down the cathedral is a cross-arm or transept creating a square bay or crossing in the middle. The widened bays at the center provided the dramaturgical heart of the cathedral allowing layfolk to interact with the liturgical performances of the clergy. The south transept arm provided a principal means of access for members of the clergy who lived in the cloister to the south. In the symbolism of the church the cross-shape of the transept recalls the cross of the Crucifixion. The wood-and-lead central steeple rises some 112m. Above the pavement with bells in its lowest level and relics of the saints embedded in its tip. This, the last such Gothic steeple in France, was constructed 1528-1533.
The cathedral east of the transept is known as the chevet (head—evoking the head of Christ on the Cross). The choir included the three bays east of the crossing where the clergy had their seats or stalls. East of the choir was the sanctuary, providing space for the bishop’s throne (cathedra), the elevated gallery for the relics of the saints and the main altar. The central space is flanked by double aisles and an ambulatory or curving passage encircling the semi-circular sanctuary. Opening from the ambulatory are seven radiating chapels with altars dedicated to local saints and a deeper axial chapel belonging to the Virgin Mary. The semi-circular east end (hemicycle) is struck from a center point corresponding to the principal altar where the Eucharistic sacrament transformed bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
Master Robert of Luzarches laid out the straight part of the chevet in the 1220s; Thomas de Cormont added the hemicycle and constructed the main arcade and aisle vaults in the 1230s and 1240s and his son, Renaud de Cormont, completed the upper chevet in the 1250s and 1260s employing new-fangled light- weight flying buttresses.