Friday, May 31, 2013

Into The Somme

Every village, town, and city in France has its war memorials, proudly maintained and honored. In eastern France, where much of the Great War was fought, the hundreds of cemeteries and memorials honor the dead, but also bear witness to the horror of war, and particularly that war.
A memorial in the cathedral at Noyon was
among the first that caught our attention

Our route north from Amiens now traversed the shifting
lines of battle of the Sommes offensive, July-November, 1916;
1.2 million lives were lost in the offensive; the British lost
21,000 killed and 35,000 wounded just the first day; the line
moved a couple of miles, which the Germans quickly gained
back in 1918

We stopped at one of the many British cemeteries along
our route; not a large one, really

Perhaps a third of the markers bore this

Albert: Art Deco Town

So after a pretty full day we departed Amiens. FWIW, our new favorite cathedral is Bourges, to which we'll return next fall. Great architecture, good sculpture, windows of great quality and age you can actually see; and even touch. Best all-around.

Anyhow, Vicki had read that on our way north now was the town of Albert, pretty much destroyed in WWI, but which had rebuilt with a substantial number of Art Deco homes and buildings. So we headed there for a look before driving on to Arras' camping aire. We walked and drove around Albert for nearly two hours, looking for the Art Deco district or neighborhood or whatever.
Absolutely the only thing we found that might conceivably
qualify as Art Deco is this pretty nice specimen: now a gun shop
(which is pretty rare in France)

But we did see some other interesting sights,
including this, the city hall

And this--I swear I am not making this up--
a bread vending machine; we actually bought
six croissants and pains chocolats...2 euros

And then this, Albert's Basilica, Notre Dame
de Brebieres; note the giant golden Virgin and
Child at the top

There's always room for another church, even if it's a neo-Byzantine

Complete with mosaics all over

But this one is famous and special: in WWI,
the church took 2,000 artillery hits, leaving
the golden Virgin and Child weirdly askew;
among the soldiers there arose the
superstition that when she fell the war would
end; it finally ended, and she and the church
all were put back aright, at unimaginable
expense, of course

Amiens Out-takes

Sure, Mark, I'd love to see more of your Amiens Cathedral

Me, In Majesty

So we noticed early on that quite a lot of this cathedral's
visual program concerned chopping peoples' heads off


And thus

And thus

And then we remembered that Amiens' Cathedral's great
relic (as if being the greatest building of its age weren't
enough) was the head of John the Baptist

And there it is, now relegated to a chapel on the northern
apse; I have now figured out why the Roman Christian
crusaders actually sacked Constantinople in the early
1200s: revenge for getting taken on all these relics the
Orthodox Christians foisted on them; read Umberto Eco's
Baudolino for a humorous treatment of all this

From the virtues/vices panel: never disagree with your bishop

One of the saints, after several escape attempts, has been

It rained almost the whole day we were in Amiens: this is my failed attempt
to capture a gargoyle actually doing what it is supposed to do

One of the disadvantages of being such a big cathedral: a resident flock of pigeons

Amiens' Sculpture

While Chartres has the most intact stained glass, Amiens has the more intact sculpture. Here is a sampling, all pretty much 13th century.
Just about everything that follows is from the west side,
but this venerated Virgin and Child is from the south...
moved indoors now to protect from the elements, a copy
in her place on the porch outside

Assorted saints, apostles, whatever, atop, but in the quadrifoils below, the
activities of the months (think Zodiac)

Last Judgment; so-so, but nice Jaws of Hell on the right

Wise Virgins (the vertical panel), their lamps held upwards;
a healthy tree at the bottom

Foolish Virgins, empty lamps, dead tree

More saints, et al.; more quadrifoils, this time representing vices and virtues

Closer up on the condemned

A Mary sequence in pairs: Annunciation, Visitation, Presentation

Top quadrifoil: things fall apart

Above Mary and Baby J, the Ark of the Covenant, and to its right, Moses (with
horns; this was a translation issue, like virgin)

Rats in Jerusalem (things really falling apart)

Things really, really, falling apart

On a more cheerful note, warming before a fire in the winter

Not all the sculpture is outside; here is one of two bronze 13th century sarcaphogi

Amiens 2

Outside, south side of the apse, a forest of flying buttresses


A line of gargoyles

View from the Somme

The Sommes in Amiens

After only a few hundred years subsidence was noted in
the building--the cathedral is only a hundred meters or so
from the river--and huge metal spikes such as this were
driven in various places; that was the 16th or 17th century,
I think; things have held up well enough since...

View of the great cathedral from the south side, along one of Amiens' fashionable
streets (we took a lunch break); note interesting playground

Back at the cathedral later, we ran into a group of young school-children en
field trip; decked in their little striped vests, each one wearing a big name-tag,
with picture, contact information...

Nothing quite like the enthusiasm of children

Amiens 1

After Noyon we drove on to Amiens and spent one night at the Parc des Cygnes campground (which charges roughly 1 euro per hour for wifi; at so many others it is free). The next morning we drove into Amiens, looking for a camping aire, never found it, but did find suitable free parking about a kilometer from the great church. Amiens Cathedral is one of the big three or four "classic" Gothic cathedrals in France, along with Chartres, Bourges, Reims, and maybe another few, all done in the late 12th-13th century. Amiens is the biggest and highest of them and also has notable sculpture. I'll divide our pix into three posts and then usual sacreligious out-takes.
West facade; we'll return to look at the portal sculptures later

Amiens has a maze, like Chartres; here Vicki has again found its

Nave view; Amiens' immensity really is awe-inspiring...

Elevation...aisles, blind triforia, huge clerestory windows;
four-part vaulting

Crossing, way, way up there

From the crossing looking back west

In one of the aisles, incredible height


Amiens has glass, but apparently not of the age nor quality
of Chartres; looks pretty good to me...

Even with the rose windows, it is the tracery you find
yourself impressed by, not so much the glass

The famous ribbon of leaves that runs the length of the cathedral between the aisle
and triforium