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A photo of the rose window of Amiens cathedral

Amiens Cathedral – The Largest in France

Last week I talked about the city of Amiens. I talked about the canals and floating gardens that are a major landmark of the city. And I raved about the surprisingly good food and the stunningly beautiful Musée de Picardie. But today I want to focus on one building in particular. A building that is famous for being the largest of its kind in France. The Amiens Cathedral. I assure you, this magnificent church did not disappoint.

A photo of Amiens Cathedral looking up the western facade. The gallery of kings, the western rose window, and the two towers can be seen.

The Largest and Fastest

The history of Amiens Cathedral begins in 1206, when the reputed skull of John the Baptist was brought to Amiens. I say reputed, because there are three other religious sites that also claim to have this relic. Nevertheless, the relic that arrived in Amiens was extremely popular, and the city quickly became a popular pilgrimage destination. At the time, a Romanesque cathedral stood in the location of today’s cathedral, but this building was destroyed by fire in 1218. Therefore, when it came time to rebuild, the city of Amiens decided to go big in order to make room for all of the visiting pilgrims. And go big they did. By the time it was done, the Amiens Cathedral was twice the size of Notre Dame in Paris.

It was also built in a fraction of the time. The first stone was laid in 1220, and by 1288, the majority of the cathedral had been built. Because of this, the cathedral retained a remarkably consistent style of High Gothic architecture. It is also incredibly beautiful, from the great flamboyant rose window to the impressive labyrinth on the floor of the nave. The Amiens Cathedral is also remarkably in tact. Amiens was heavily damaged during World War I, and fully 60% of the city was destroyed during World War II. But the cathedral survived both of these events, and in 1981, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Towers of Amiens Cathedral

The cathedral is also part of the Centre for National Monuments, meaning I could check off another site as part of my Passion Monuments challenge. In this case, it was the towers of Amiens Cathedral, as I was able to climb to the top of the north tower. And yes, it was a lot of stairs. A lot of stairs. So many, that they inspired a whole other story as I climbed. But the view from the top was absolutely worth it. Not only did I get to see the whole of Amiens spread out before me, but I also got to see the many gargoyles of the cathedral up close and personal. They were quite the sight, let me tell you.

A photo of a gargoyle shaped like a boar's head. The city of Amiens can be seen in the distance.

I don’t know if I will ever climb to the top of the Amiens Cathedral again. Once was enough for all those stairs. But I hope another visit to the cathedral itself is in my future. In particular, I would love to see the light show that is projected onto the western facade every summer. As I said last week, I was sad to say goodbye to Amiens. But thankfully, a return trip is only an hour away by train. I have a feeling I’ll be making that trip sooner rather than later.

Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.