I spent the best part of the first couple of weeks of this month towing a caravan around and visiting some of the sights of the Ile de France. It was a loosely planned trip following a roughly circular route taking in Amiens, Laon, Rheims, Troyes and Auxerre before a brief brush with the Paris Boulevard Peripherique and the coast at the junction of Normandy and Picardy. I was thus able to fulfil a part of a longstanding ambition of visiting the bulk of the great gothic cathedrals of that region the origins of which go back to my very first visit to France in the summer of 1973 when I first fell under the spell of the great cathedral of Chartres.
From an architectural point of view, Chartres Cathedral is part of that great burgeoning of church building in the area around the Ile de France which saw the birth and early development of the gothic style during the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. It is an outstandingly beautiful building from many points of view and I was certainly moved by this visual elegance but what fascinated and captivated me most of all was the fact that it had retained by far the greater part of its iconography in stone sculpture and stained glass. I was also fortunate in having been able to attend an introductory talk given by the English language guide, Malcolm Miller, which was both clear and orthodox. From that day on I was smitten and have returned repeatedly over the years. This year I determined to look at the broader context as it were and so it was that in the warmth of a summer noon I approached the Cathedral of Our Lady at Amiens.
(To be continued)
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