Higher and Higher: Amiens

Last Friday night I did not sleep well. The Saturday morning trip had to many “what ifs” involved. I woke at 2:30 am and again at 5 am. At that point, I just got up, made the coffee and got ready for the day. I got on the metro at Pont Marie at 7:04 and headed toward Poissonniére where I would then walk 8 minutes to Gare du Nord, assuming I walked in the correct direction! I did. All was well. I was so early for my train that was scheduled to depart at 8:04. Saw a “5-Guys” with a breakfast menu, and I did it up right with a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. My son would be proud.

The train departed. I was surprised at how long the Parisian sprawl continued before the landscape gave way to something rural, lots of factories and stuff. Most of it did not look that wonderful. The sun finally broke the horizon and I was looking at frosty fields and wind farms. It was a regional train, so we stopped frequently. When we arrived at Amiens I was a little surprised because there was not a lot of urban sprawl. Before I knew it, I was there. I could see over near the horizon one structure that dominated the skyline, the Cathedral. I have wanted to see it for decades. This trip had another bonus. One of my students, Sam Mungai, who enrolled in my Sistine Chapel class last semester, is in Amiens on a Study Abroad Exchange Program that our college has with Université de Picardie Jules Verne. So, Sam and I made arrangements to meet at the train station and he would show me the city and his place of study.

He graciously gave his entire day and patiently navigated as I took more than 300 photographs. We had a wonderful lunch at Miam’s. We saw the cathedral, walked along the river and canals, visited two campuses of the University, and ended the tour with a Macron Macaroon. I logged in at 13.31 miles of walking for the day. In our conversations, it was clear that he was happy with his university experience in Amiens. As a double major in Mass Communication and French Cultural Studies, he certainly was adaptable in the Amiens community.

Amiens initially struck me as more relaxed than Paris. It is smaller than Paris but by the end of the day we did end up in a more modernized section of town with the bustle that I have come to expect. I enjoyed the picturesque nature of the city.

The historical and university portions of the town are architecturally varied ranging from medieval to highly modernist. After an initial coffee stop, we visited the cathedral, which Sam knew was my top priority.

I expected the cathedral to be big, so I had no surprise there. I have been in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Paris several times, so I am expecting something similar, in a way. And it was in a way. But, Amiens Cathedral is very different from Paris and my readings prepared me. Amiens is more sculptural. The stained glass has been ravaged from wars, so it wasn’t going to be better than St. Chapelle in that regard. Upon entering through the portal, I was immediately struck with the three-dimensionality of the sculptures, the row after row of successive arches that suspended themselves overhead. I was also mesmerized by the complexity and richness of the sculptural program. The sculptures are not simply adhered to the structure but they visually become part of the structure. The architects and sculptors in this case have transformed the rigid nature of stone into an organic growing structure that soars. Truly, verticality rules here. But so does light, which becomes very apparent once you enter into the cathedral and absorb the view down the central nave. Beyond the altar, the ceiling area above the choir becomes a magical glowing white. This is about as close to a visual heaven on earth as anyone is likely to ever see. In the photographs that accompany this blog, I have included the things that support the idea that this cathedral is sculptural but also to certain extent, this cathedral is mystical. One cannot help but observe the way that the light from the stained glass transforms grey stone into beautiful pastels that one can easily find in a 19th-century impressionist painting. It is the largest cathedral in France. It is the tallest cathedral in France. I loved the round windows in the transepts. I loved the rose window above the organ. I loved the tombs. I loved the choir area with its burst of glory. The builders of the church took Gothic to an extreme that is beyond what these pictures can possibly show. I was surprised at the quality of light in this building.

Furthermore, I feel like the scale of this building challenged my photography skills and equipment. I truly needed a wider-angle lens.

When we arrived at Parc Saint-Pierre, we patiently waited for the sun to sink below the horizon. In the distance, the cathedral provided a beautiful silhouette, reflecting in the lake water, as the contrails of jets from a nearby airport etched their lines into a dramatic French sky. It was a great day that ended by reinforcing the idea that there must be something very important up there.

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