CEILING OVER NAVE, AMIENS CATHEDRAL, FRANCE: Amiens’ Cathedral of Notre Dame sits atop a gently rising hill above the peaceful River Somme in northern France. While the actual date of completion is somewhat disputed, most historians agree the church was completed around 1270. It took approximately 50 years to build— in an era of no motors, cranes nor any electrical or gas powered tools. It was built with brains, brawn and stone using clever hoists, ramps, levers and fulcrums. Amazing, really. Although Amiens is not the tallest Gothic cathedral in France (that’s Beauvais, although it remains incomplete), it is the largest. The nave ceiling rises 139 feet above the floor, roughly the same height as a modern fourteen storey building.
In the First World War, the town of Amiens sustained heavy damage during the “Kaiser’s Battle,” the last major offensive of the German Army. The battle raged within miles of the cathedral. It sustained some heavy bombardment and several chapels were damaged. The main structure remained sound. I like this photo for its geometric patterns and the various gradients of pink and yellow colour cast by the sunlight beaming in through the upper windows.
Shot handheld and braced with a Nikon D300, 16-85 DX zoom lens at 16mm, ISO 3200, 1/80 sec., f11. Copyright photo by John Ecker | pantheon photography
TOMB OF CLOVIS I, ST. DENIS, PARIS: The Abbey of St. Denis is about roughly four miles north of Paris. St. Denis was the first bishop of Paris and martyred in 270. In 630 King Dagobert founded an abbey for Benedictine monks and built a large basilica on the site. In 750, Charlemagne began construction of a new church which, according to popular belief, was constructed with the assistance of Jesus Christ. In person. Around 1140, Suger, the Abbott of St. Denis, commenced the building of the current structure, one of the earliest Gothic churches. The remains of virtually all of France’s Kings and Queens now rest here. Their locations in building are on this Map of St. Denis Tombs. This photo is of the tomb of Clovis I, (466 – 511) first King of the Franks and a convert to Catholicism. Also see my photo of the beautiful St. Denis Rose Window. Shot handheld with a Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 18-200mm at 55mm, 1/60 sec. f10, 3200 ISO. Photo by John Ecker | pantheon photography
CANDLES, NOTRE-DAME DE REIMS, FRANCE: Most, though not all Roman Catholic churches, have places where visitors can light candles. It’s believed that the practice began with people lighting candles at the tombs of martyrs in the catacombs. The candles were lit to show solidarity—a silent vigil— with other Catholics. They became known as vigil lights. Lighting a candle is a way to extend prayer. Candles are also symbolic of Christ—“I am the Light of the World”. In major Catholic cathedrals, the lighting of candles is very popular with visitors– pilgrims to the church. These candles were shot in Reims Cathedral. The solitary red candle serves as a focal point in the photograph. Shot handheld with a Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 16-85 mm lens at 16m, 1/10 sec. f.3.6 ISO 800. Photo by John Ecker | Pantheon
CHAGALL WINDOWS, REIMS CATHEDRAL, FRANCE: The Cathedral of Notre Dame at Reims is an excellent Gothic cathedral that is uncomplicated and straightforward in its layout and execution. Like other French cathedrals, Reims was not spared in the First or Second World Wars. It caught fire in 1918 during a bombardment and lead from the roof oozed through the mouths of the gargoyle rain spouts. Five chapels are tightly placed around the ambulatory and are fairly shallow. The ‘axial’ chapel is slightly deeper and it is here where the beautiful Marc Chagall windows dazzle visitors. Shot handheld with a Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 16-85 lens at 16mm, 1/6 second, f3.5, ISO 800. Photo by John Ecker
CATHEDRAL OF NOTRE DAME, NOYON, FRANCE: This battle-scarred cathedral is still a wonder to visit. This is where Charlemagne was crowned in 768, as was the first Capetian King, Hugh Capet, in 987. That original cathedral burned in 1131, and then was rebuilt between 1145 and 1235. It is an excellent example of early Gothic architecture in France. The Town of Noyon was occupied by German forces in both the First and Second World Wars. Internal and external walls still reveal the damage from the battles that raged in Noyon. This photo shows scattered shrapnel damage on an exterior wall, a permanent reminder of the wars that have ravaged this beautiful cathedral. Shot handheld with a Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 16-85mm lens at 34mm, f11, 1/640 sec. ISO 2000. Photo by John Ecker.
CATHEDRAL OF NOTRE DAME, LAON, FRANCE: This beautiful early Gothic Cathedral in northern Champagne is visible from kilometres away. It sits on the highest point of the ancient town. The steep drive to the top is exhilarating in itself, via narrow roads with many switchbacks. We arrived late in the day and found the building was locked. We’d have to await the next day for a visit inside the massive cathedral. With the western sun on the massive red doors, the beauty of the steep gables and statuary were aglow like no other time of the day. Notre Dame was completed in 1225 after nearly seventy-five years of construction. The interior is magnificent. My favourite feature is the 13th century crossing lantern. And, on the west façade you can see the memorial to World War I Commonwealth war dead. Shot handheld with a Nikon D300, Nikkor AF-S 16-85 mm at 39mm, f5, 1/50 sec., ISO 800. Photo by John Ecker
THE BASILICA OF ST. DENIS: Just north of Paris, in the suburb of St. Denis, is the beautiful Basilica of St. Denis. It’s not a huge church, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in artifacts and history. Construction of the Gothic church began in 1136. Virtually every French king is buried here, earning it the title of Royal Acropolis of France. During the French Revolution, crypts were raided and bodies dumped nearby in pits. The remains were subsequently recovered and reburied. Beneath the altar, in the crypt, are the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Also buried here are the remains of Clovis I, Dagobert I, Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici, among others. I recommend reading Great Gothic Cathedrals of France, by Stan Parry, in my view, the best and most readable book about French Gothic Cathedrals. Shot handheld with a Nikon D300, Nikkor 70mm -300mm AF-S VR lens, at 300mm, f22, 1/80th sec, ISO 3200. Photo by John Ecker | pantheon photography