Chartres cathedral versus Amiens Cathedral

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Chartres and Amiens Cathedrals

Gothic architecture from the 11th-14th centuries has yielded many magnificent basilican cathedrals. Two such famous cathedrals with twin-tower, west-end façades illustrate exceptional importance. They are Chartres Cathedral and Amiens Cathedral, both located in France. Although both churches are generally based on the same modern design form of their time, their individual aspects are self complimentary and reveal important properties.

The west-end façade of Chartres Cathedral was built around 1145 and towers in the air. The two towers at Chartres are not flush with the façade. They maintain to keep their form as they stretch completely to the ground, helping create a sense of greater height. Thus, the space between the two towers is distinctively separate from them. Two alluvial lines separate this area into three equal layers. The bottom layer contains three elaborately sculpted portals. All three portals enter directly into the nave, and are thus moved closer together, creating a better iconographic presentation. The middle of the three layers holds three single pillared arches containing stained glass. They are the same size and shape as the lower portals; however, they are without sculptures, tympana, voussoirs, or lintels. The upper layer contains a large rose window which uses plate tracery to form a number of small, cusped circles equidistant from a center circle. From the bottom up, the towers have identical features until they reach the top of the rose. The southern broach spire has a greater roof area and far less detail than the northern octagonal spire with pinnacles, which was built in a different style and is slightly taller.

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The west-end façade of Amiens Cathedral is similar to that of Chartres; however, it contains far more intricate detail. The three portals protrude slightly from the façade. The outer two enter directly into their respective aisles, while the center portal enters the nave. The portals’ elaborately sculpted tympana, pillars, and voussoirs make for an extensive iconographic program. Four pinnacled spires extend upward from the areas between, and on the outsides of the portals. They rise just above the portals, until they are met by an arcade that forms a horizontal band across the façade. Directly above the first arcade lies another of equal height. The second arcade’s arches are much narrower and each contains a small statue. Above that, a horizontal break reveals a large rose slightly inset between two large double arches. The crowns of the double arches mark the end of the cathedrals symmetry. The southern tower has arches identical to the ones below it and is topped by a small roof. The northern tower however, is taller, contains larger lancet windows, and has a similar roof. The two cathedrals have many aspects that are common and many that are individual to themselves.

The use of sculpture in the west portals plays a very important role in both Amiens and Chartres Cathedrals; it helps to represent their main themes. While both cathedrals have elaborate iconographic programs, they relate somewhat different meanings. Juxtapositioned between the two towers, the portals at Chartres create a greater sense of unity and togetherness. The right portal depicts the events of Christ’s Incarnation. Mary holds the child in the tympanum, and represents Christ as the center of all knowledge. The left portal depicts Christ’s Ascension, showing His power throughout heaven and earth. The Royal Portal holds Christ in all His glory surrounded by the four symbolic beasts, elders, apostles, and angels. Together, the portals show Christ’s second coming as a merciful and joyous event, they emphasize the knowledge and love of Christ as salvation. The unity Christ has with His followers is show by the unity and the sculpture of the portals. When the tunic was saved from the 114 fire, the town’s people felt the power of Christ and recreated that in the cathedral. The portals at Amiens Cathedral also have an extensive iconographic program; however, they do not hold the same meaning as Chartres. The center portal gives the common Last Judgment effect, while the left portal is of the former bishop of Amiens. The right portal; however is of the Virgin Mary. Rather than having the deep, spiritual meaning of Chartres, these portals better displayed religious figures and the theological doctrines of the cathedral to the people. The people of Chartres felt a more intimate relationship with Christ through the figural sculptures than those of Amiens.

The relationship between the height of the cathedrals and the internal light created by it is present in both Chartres and Amiens. The high gothic architecture used in creating these cathedrals allowed for greater tower heights as well as a lower wall to window ratio. The west-end façades of these cathedrals boast towers that reach far into the sky, from their height; they appear to be reaching toward God in heaven. The tallest completed cathedral in France, Amiens’s nave vault is forty-two meters high. The nave vault of Chartres is also very tall at thirty-eight meters. The elements of design used in the west-end façades create the illusion of great height by a strong sense of verticality and maintaining a narrow build. Internally, the illusion of height is continued through the low width of the nave. Above the triforium passage in each cathedral, light was allowed to pour in through the stained glass which was held up by thin stone tracery. The light was considered to be the purest form since it contained no mass. The highly vaulted naves sent light down from above, thus allowing it to represent the spiritual power of God. A sense of knowing God and feeling His presence was created by the internal light and the narrow, upward reaching towers of the west-end façades of Chartres and Amiens Cathedrals.

The relationship of these cathedrals is one of similarity, and yet one of difference. They stand as important pieces of history from the era of gothic architecture, and their façades are of irreplaceable splendor and design.

The west-end façade of Amiens Cathedral stands tall in

Amiens, France.

The Amiens Cathedral rose is so high above the portals that blind arcades had to be positioned between them to

fill the space.

The portals of Chartres Cathedral were elaborately sculpted and had a deep spiritual meaning.

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