Cathedral of Beauvais
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Cathedral of Beauvais

Site Information

Country: France
State: Oise
Location: 49° 25' 57" N - 2° 4' 53" E
Field Documentation Date(s): July 1st, 2001
Project Release Date(s): September 1st, 2006
Time Range: 1226 CE - 1575 CE
Era: Medieval, Middle Ages, Gothic
Culture: French Gothic
Site Authority: Diocese of Beauvais (-Noyon-Senlis)
Heritage Listing: World Monuments Fund 100 Most Endangered Sites 2000 and 2002
world map with location

Site Description

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Located in northern France in the city of Beauvais, the cathedral is approximately 100 miles from the English Channel--close enough for the gale-force winds to threaten the stability of its flying buttresses. The church soars to 47m (154ft) above its floor in the choir vaults, and despite its lack of a tower and nave it is still one of the most daring feats in Gothic architecture.
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History

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The Cathedral of Saint Pierre de Beauvais, which dominated the city of Beauvais, France during the Middle Ages, is an important example of Gothic architecture. In 1225 the construction of the cathedral was commissioned by Bishop Milon de Nanteuil. In 1247 architect Bernard de Soissons was ordered by Bishop Guillaume de Grez to add 16 feet to the choir construction, making it the tallest choir ever built in Europe at 47m (154ft) in height. In 1284, only twelve years after the choir was completed, it collapsed (the exact reasons for the architectural failure are still unknown). The determined patrons of Beauvais began reconstruction soon thereafter. Over two hundred years later, Martin Chambiges, the greatest master mason in the Late French Gothic era, designed a transept with two monumental facades. The enormous transept was further expanded in the mid-sixteenth century through the addition of an ambitious tower with supporting vaults. The tower, a colossal addition to one of Europe's grandest architectural monuments, was the cause of the cathedral's second major collapse in 1573.

After the destruction of 1573, the tower was abandoned and efforts to reconstruct the damaged transept vaults diminished the patrons' aspirations for a stately nave. Instead of developing the nave, a formal connection was constructed between the western wall of the transept and a small tenth century Romanesque church known as the Basse Oeuvre. The Romanesque church occupies the place where the nave would have been. The juxtaposition of a modest Romanesque church with a massive Gothic cathedral is a testament to a unique construction history that spans six centuries. Today, the magnificence of the Cathedral of Saint Pierre de Beauvais, which combines the geometric principles of Gothic architecture with the artistic ingenuity of the Early to Late Gothic French style, speaks to the competitive spirit of the Gothic era.
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Project Narrative

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In July 2001, the Media Center for Art History and the Robotics Lab from Columbia University collected HDS data of the Cathedral of Saint Pierre de Beauvais to create a model to serve for both documentation and structural analysis purposes as part of the cathedral's historic preservation program. Funding for the survey was provided by the World Monuments Fund, the Samuel Kress Foundation, and a grant from the National Science Foundation. Data development was supported by the Kacyra Family Foundation.
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3D point cloud of the Catherdral of Beauvais

Preservation

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In 2000 and 2002 the Cathedral was placed on the World Monuments Fund's 100 Most Endangered Sites list. The gothic masterpiece has experienced many difficulties in its 700 year-long history: in AD 1285 the vaulting of the choir collapsed and in 1573, four years after its completion, the aspiringly-tall church tower came crashing down during a service on Ascension Day. These architectural failures led to the cessation of its construction. As a result, the church was never completed as it has no nave. The choir was rebuilt after its collapse with more columns, but the tower was abandoned. Remarkably, the cathedral survived the heavy bombings that destroyed much of the town of Beauvais during World War II. Today the church is threatened by gale-force winds from the English channel that strain the buttresses, causing them to oscillate, which in turn has weakened many of the roof timbers. Many critical iron ties on the choir buttresses were removed between the 1950s and 1980s; this turned out to be a damaging experiment. In the 1990s, to correct the error, a tie-and-brace system was installed, but it is now believed that it is making the structure too rigid, increasing the stresses upon it. The laser scan data collected by Columbia University in 2001 will hopefully lead to the creation of 3D models that can be used to test restoration strategies. It is yet to be determined if the Cathedral of Saint Pierre de Beauvais can be fully saved.
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Area Descriptions

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Interior

Interior

Interior Description:

The High Gothic style of the cathedral is marked by engineering expertise and architectural innovation. The Gothic pointed arch, flying buttress and rib vault allow the walls of the cathedral to dematerialize. Large stained glass windows in the upper stories of the choir let in light and contribute to the delicate appearance of this massive edifice. A modular system is used to create unified but expansive spaces. These architectural features define High Gothic as a style in which a buildings structure and ornamentation are highly integrated.
The interior of the church possesses an elaborate astronomical clock and tapestries of the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries; its chief artistic treasures are the stained glass windows of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and sixteenth centuries.


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References:

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  1. "Beauvais Cathedral." Glass Steal and Stone. 26 January 2006 <http://www.glasssteelandstone.com/BuildingDetail/644.php>.
  2. "Beauvais." Encyclopedia.com. 2005. Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 26 January 2006 <http://encyclopedia.com/html/B/Beauvais.asp>.
  3. "Cathedrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais." Reference.com. Dictionary.com 26 January 2006 <http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Cath%E9drale_Saint-Pierre_de_Beauvais>.
  4. Allen, P., et al. "New Methods of Digital Modeling of Historic Sites." 3D Reconstruction and Visualization. Nov/Dec 2003. IEEE Computer Society, 2003.
  5. Cothren, M. W. Picturing the Celestial City: The Medieval Stained Glass of Beauvais Cathedral. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.
  6. Eakin, E. "Cybersleuths Take On the Mystery of the Collapsing Colossus." New York Times 27 October 2001, late ed.: A13.
  7. Emery, E. Romancing the Cathedral: Gothic Architecture in Fin-de-Siecle French Culture. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.
  8. Murray, S. Beauvais Cathedral: Architecture of Transcendence. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.
  9. Scott, R.A. The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
  10. Wilson, C. The Gothic Cathedral: the Architecture of the Great Church 1130-1530. London, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1990.

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Credits:

more     - Peter K. Allen
            Columbia Robotics Lab

     - Andrew Miller
            Columbia Robotics Lab

     - Stephen Murray
            Media Center for Art History

     - Ben Smith
            Media Center for Art History

     - Ioannis Stamos
            Columbia Robotics Lab

     - Alejandro Troccoli
            Media Center for Art History

     - Stefaan Van Liefferinge
            Media Center for Art History