Let’s begin our description of the Saint-Pierre Cathedral of Beauvais with its choir.
The choir features the highest vault in Gothic choirs: 46.7 meters. Only the apse’s vault retains its original form. After the partial collapse in 1284, reconstruction took place in the 14th century with additional pillars, and the vaults became sexpartite, as they are today.
The westernmost part, bordering the transept, is a 16th-century reconstruction following the collapse of the lantern tower in 1573.
Drag the slider on the photo below to remove the new pillars added after the collapse of the choir in 1284 and reveal what the choir was meant to look like before.
Details of the choir’s capitals
On the left, it is likely a drummer with his right hand raised. On the right, it appears to be a player of a viol or a rebec.
On the left, it is likely a seated beggar with his dog. A begging bowl is placed on his knee. The second character, chubby, is lifting the lower part of his coat before relieving himself.
This is a dramatic scene depicted here. The mother on the right is using her foot to pull her son (on the left), whose arm is caught in the mouth of a monster whose body terminates in a snake-like manner.
On the left, the character carries a basket with three small loaves of bread. The character on the right is holding a pitcher. What does it contain?
The character on the left is an angel (one of its wings is visible from another angle). It has clasped hands. The character on the right doesn’t have a face, which, under certain lighting, can make it resemble a ghost. Did it ever have a face?
In the choir, there is a plaster sculpture by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, commissioned in 1755 by the cathedral chapter. It depicts the Virgin Mary on the clouds. Below, the Child Jesus, standing on a globe, crushes the serpent with his cross. A representation of the same scene, dating from the mid-19th century, can be found on the back of the astronomical clock.
The South Portal
The south portal of the Saint-Pierre Cathedral of Beauvais is a masterpiece from the 16th century, attributed to the architect Martin Chambiges.
The rose window on the south facade.
Above the portal, the large rose window bears the rose of creation within its stone tracery.
The left door, attributed to Jean Le Pot, dates back to the 16th century, around 1540. During the Revolution, several heads were severed. This left door depicts an episode from the life of Saint Peter: the healing of a paralytic
Also from the 16th century, around 1540, the right door, called the Saint Paul Door, is also attributed to Jean Le Pot. It depicts an episode from the life of Saint Paul, his conversion on the road to Damascus.
The sculpted decorations
The ‘voussoirs,’ which frame the doors of the portal, are adorned with vegetal motifs: the vine, the oak, and the bryony.
Bryony is a climbing plant whose fruits are often depicted in groups of three, in a lobed shape. This feature, reminiscent of the Trinity, has led to its representation on cathedral portals, as in Lyon, Sens, and here in Beauvais.
The vine is a biblical symbol of abundance that appears many times in both the Old and New Testaments. When it is abundant and bears fruit, it is an expression of blessing. This blessing should extend to all, as the owner of the vineyard should not go back to gather the forgotten clusters but leave them for the poor and strangers. In the New Testament, the vine is a symbol of the Kingdom of God, which one must work for during their earthly life. ‘You also go into my vineyard’ (Matthew 20:4).
The Oak, in the Bible, is a symbol of strength and solidity. It is also under the oaks in Mamre that Abraham receives a visit from the Lord. ‘The Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.’ (Genesis 18:1-2)
The North Portal
The north portal of the Saint-Pierre Cathedral of Beauvais is somewhat less decorated than the south portal, which is the main entrance. It dates back to the early 16th century.
The Tree of Jesse
This Tree of Jesse fills the entire space above the doors. The branches and their interlacing represent a technical feat for the sculptor. The statues representing the kings at the ends of the branches were destroyed during the French Revolution.
The door of the Evangelists represents the four evangelists with their symbols: the eagle Saint for Jean, the man for Saint Matthieu, the lion for Saint Marc and the ox for Saint Luc.
“The door of the Doctors of the Church represents the four Latin Doctors of the Church (as on the stained glass window of the south transept). From left to right:
Saint Augustin, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, Saint Grégoire The Great, Pope, Saint Jérôme (347-420) who translated the Bible into Latin, and Saint Ambrose Saint Ambroise (340-397) Bishop of Milan, who converted Saint Augustine, who had come to study in Milan.