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 pix...

Me, In Majesty

So we noticed early on that quite a lot of this
cathedral's visual program concerned cutting
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 restrained

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

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,

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

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 center

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