The Beauvais cathedral is a magnificent architectural wonder located in northern France. Here you will learn everything to prepare for your visit.
🗺️ Where is Beauvais?
Beauvais is located in Northern France, between Paris and Amiens, in the department of l’Oise and Picardi region.
It’s a bit more than an hour to the north of Paris by car or train to get to Beauvais.
From Amiens, it’s also almost an hour to get to Beauvais via the highway.
⛪️ The Cathedral of Saint Peter
The gothic Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Peter, and it’s also known as cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais. It is the seat of the bishop of Beauvais, Senlis and Noyon, of the roman Catholic Church and the bishop’s building is located right behind the cathedral.
This cathedral is nothing like any other cathedral in France and that too for a good reason.
An unofficial competition to build the highest and largest and most perfect cathedral, during the height of the cathedral building period in the medieval ages, had motivated the builders of the Beauvais cathedral to go all out.
Their ambition was to build a cathedral, higher than the cathedral of Amiens. The walls had to take the weight and height of the vault, the flying buttresses had to create the illusion of lightness and a bright interior.
The constructions of the 12th century were based on the local parish church build around the 10th century, known as the Notre Dame de la basse œuvre. This building was damaged by fires over the ages, but it is still part of the cathedral today and visitors can see it.
That the old building from the dark ages, the basse-oeuvre, is still visible, is remarkable and there is one reason for that! The cathedral was never finished, the cathedral of Beauvais is an unfinished cathedral, the nave was never built, and it even collapsed twice.
Only the 16th century transept, ambulatory, apse, and chapels were constructed.
The Gothic choir under the vault, with 157 feet (ca. 48 m)/ 48 meter, is the highest in the world and one of the most beautiful Gothic choir structures. And for a brief period in the 16th century, the central tower with a 501.97 ft (153 meters) was the tallest structure in the world.
The moment you enter the incomplete cathedral you start to understand the vast high and insanity of this project.
Nonetheless, the cathedral still stand as it is, and it has even survived fires and two world wars.
My wife’s grandfather with his brothers and father, settled in Beauvais after WW2 when they heard that there was work to repair the damages done to the cathedral.
Today, the inner walls and vault near the entrance are held together by massive steel tie rods. It’s obvious to visitors that the maintenance of this cathedral is on another level altogether. It also helps one understand not to take these architectural wonders for granted.
The façade is a delight, richly decorated and detailed, a typical gothic façade. The carved wooden doors are another masterpiece created by sculpture of the 15th century, and they compare to the ones at the Notre Dame in Paris.
The stained glass windows are some of the most breathtakingly colorful glass windows from the 13th and 14th century. They compare to the ones in the Augsburg cathedral in Germany. A local craftsman from Beauvais was the master glassmaker.
The old organ was completely unusable after WW2 and was replaced by a newer model.
The l’Oise region is known for centuries for its specialty, tapestries. As a visitor, you can see some amazing Renaissance tapestries.
A few tapestry panels from the collection “Life of Saint Peter and of Saint Paul” and “the amazing story of the Gauls” can be seen in the cathedral.
Unfortunately, some of them are missing and some were robbed in 1974, so the cathedral authorities have been keeping the best pieces locked.
🕛 The Astronomical and the Chiming Clock
The elaborate astronomical clock is a masterpiece that was added later on in 1868 by Auguste Lucien Vérité, a native of Beauvais. He is also the maker of the astronomical clock in Besançon.
The huge mechanical clock took 3 years to put together. Miniature work, symmetry, and exactness are combined with beauty and ingenuity.
The clock indicates:
- the time
- the decline of the sun
- the length of the day and night
- the season
- the zodiac
- day in the week and the planet of the day
- the month
- the moon phase
- the age of the moon
- the current running century
- the hours of other great cities such as Paris, Rome, Calcutta and Beijing.
- the high and low tides of the sea based on the Mont St.Michel in the Normandy and that of the château de Montorguil, located on the Jersey island near the Normandy.
One can see countless little details such as religious beings, humans, animals and paintings of places. Each has a meaning, and visitors get to learn and see the clock in action during the regular opening hours of the cathedral.
The astronomical clock is a paid visit, with a fee of €5 per Person, which is paid at the reception in the cathedral.
You will get to sit down and see the clock up close and listen in on its workings and watch its movements. The fees are used to help maintain the crumbling cathedral.
The cathedral has another lesser known clock from the 14th century. It’s the oldest chiming clock in the world and it’s still in working order!
The medieval chiming clock is located right next to the astronomical clock and you can see it from the regular passage of the cathedral.
💡 Tips for your Visit
- Traveling by car to the city center comes without any restrictions, no CRIT air pollution stickers needed.
- You can park your car near the cathedral on the indigo parking Foch. The first 30 minutes are free, every subsequent half an hour costs about 0,40 cents.
- All parking in the center of Beauvais are free in August, and at times also in December before Christmas.
- You don’t have to dress in any special way. Shorts, dresses and uncovered shoulders are ok. This is a gigantic plus in all Cathedrals in France! But, remove your cap when you enter the cathedral, this is the only thing most cathedral employees ask visitors to do.
🏰 Attractions nearby
- Statue and Place of Jeanne Hachette – The statue of a local medieval hero. She led a troop of women armed with swords to save Beauvais from the duke of Burgundy. It’s a nice place to hang out and there is an old cute carousel for the kids there.
- MUDO Oise Museum – Located behind the cathedral in the former bishop’s palace, this museum showcases local and Italian art works and tells the history of the l’Oise province.
- Saint-Étienne Church – a cute and second church of the town near the city center
- Rue de Marissel and Church of Marissel – This used to be a village which was merged into Beauvais. The road has some typical homes of the region and the church is filled with relics, called Église Notre-Dame.
🚗 Getting There
You can get to Beauvais from Paris, Amiens, Rouen and other destinations.
To get there by car, take the A16 and you will be there in 1 to 1 1/2 hour. The freeway fee is about €4 one way.
To get there by train, take a train at the Gars du Nord station direction Beauvais/Amiens/Lille and you will be there within 1h 15 mins to 2 hours.
Pick a direct train without changing train. Most trains are early morning, and the last direct ones are up to about 8 pm.
The train fee is about €50 per Person to go and come, and occasionally, the SNCF (public train service of France) has special deals in the summer.
From Other Destinations in France
By freeway via the A16, a one-way drive will cost you about €9. There is no direct train connection from Amiens to Beauvais but you can take a detour via Creils, which will take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
The national road N31 from Rouen to Beauvais is long and tedious, and they have set up plenty of Speed Cameras along the way. It will take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get there, but that’s the fastest route. There is no good train connection and the only other option is a local bus between those two cities.
Beauvais has a fully functioning airport and that makes things getting from other European cities to Beauvais super easy!
You can get directly to Beauvais from other cities, including Lisbon, Helsinki, Vienna, Dublin to just name a few.
There is also an option to book a shuttle from the Paris Charles de Gaule Airport to the Beauvais airport for just €16 per Person if you are landing in Paris because you are coming from out of Europe.
It was an ambitious project, and they never completed the construction of the building because it collapsed two times. It has the highest vault with, 157 feet/ 48 meter, in the world.