The cathedrals of France are a testament to Medieval architecture and stonework. We now marvel at the skill and imagination of the men who dreamed of, and then built, these monuments to God. Not only are they breathtaking buildings in and of themselves, but the artwork that graces them is beautiful as well. From graceful arches and buttresses to statues of saints, with whimsical gargoyles and roof sculptures, the masons were artists at their jobs. Many of the cathedrals also have beautiful and colorful stained glass windows as well, leaving us to marvel at the expertise that came together centuries ago to build these amazing structures.
10. Saint-Gatien Cathedral, Tours
The cathedral in Tours was built between 1170 to 1547, leading to a difference of design – much of the cathedral is Gothic, but the belfries are Renaissance, and the tower buttresses are Romanesque. The design varies on each of the towers, as well, with different carving styles dominating each side.
9. Sainte Etienne Cathedral, Bourges
Work on the cathedral in Bourges started sometime in the late 12th century, and finished in 1542, although it was consecrated in 1324. The layout of the church is unique in that it does not have the transepts which form the cross shape of most cathedrals. The very long nave is supported by exterior flying buttresses, and the interior of the nave is very long and unobstructed, with exceptionally high ceilings. Some of the statuary in the cathedral pre-date it, coming from an earlier church on the same site. The stained glass windows at the east end date from teh 13th century, and 22 of the original 25 windows have survived.
8. Notre Dame Cathedral, Laon
The cathedral of Laon was built between 1160 and 1230, and the chapels were built in the late 13th century. Seven towers were planned for the cathedral, but only five were completed. They are very light and highly ornamented, with statues of oxen. The interior of the church is surprisingly bright, due to the use of white stone, and there is a rose stained glass window that dates from 1210. The cathedral was an important stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago in Spain.
7. Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg
The cathedral in Strasbourg is strangely asymmetrical, with only one of the towers completed. Originally begun in 1176 in Romanesque style, the construction was restarted using Gothic design in 1225 after a visit by architects from Chartres. The west front wall has an astounding array of carvings numbering in the thousands. The facade is one of the first that could not have been conceived without plans – it could not have come to be organically, and the use of architectural plans probably started here and at the cathedral in Cologne. The completed north tower was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874.
6. Saint Pierre Cathedral, Beauvais
The cathedral in Beauvais is an architectural anomaly in France – the nave was never built. Construction was started in 1225, and by 1272 it had the highest vaulted choir in Europe. But in 1284, part of the vaulting of the choir collapsed. The transept was built from 1500 to 1548, and then in 1573 a tower with ambitions of being 500 feet tall also collapsed, and work was essentially halted on the cathedral, meaning that no nave was ever added. What exists of the church is exquisite – the south facade is splendidly gothic, the south carved wooden door is a marvel of Renaissance workmanship, and the north door is gothic. The stained glass windows are artistic treasures of the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries.