Tapestry centre and cathedral town
Beauvais’ famous Cathédrale de Saint-Pierre, www.cathedrale-beauvais.fr, a blackened hulk crouched to one side of the postwar town centre, looks somewhat ominous: no competition for the classic Gothic beauty of Amiens. In 1225, the Bishop of Beauvais drummed up sufficient support for his pet project to set about building the biggest, tallest cathedral in Christendom. By 1263, the massive choir was completed, only to collapse in 1272. It was repaired and fell again in 1284. Buttresses were built, the transcept tacked on, and then the temptation to add a spire despite the lack of a supporting nave spelled disaster yet again. Further construction was halted after the steeple toppled in 1573, and St Peter’s was never completed.
The building looks distinctly unbalanced and grim from the outside, but it improves at the main door, its Renaissance panels heaving with carvings. The interior is neck-crickingly high, and the ambulatory chapels gleam with marvellous stained glass, some of which dates from the 13thC. You can’t miss the astronomical clocks, the original a picture of restraint beside the 19thC version with its scores of dials and enamelled faces ranging from the size of a dinner plate to a thumbnail.
A famous tapestry centre, Beauvais is a natural site for the Galerie nationale de la Tapisserie housed in an ugly, concrete building to the east of the cathedral. The exhibits change regularly and there is an element of pot-luck, but you can always be assured of both antique and modern pieces in some form. To the west, a gateway flanked by towers topped with witches’ hats leads to the Musée Départemental de I’Oise, www.mudo.oise.fr, which harbours assorted local history and fine arts displays. For more dazzling stained glass, turn south for the Eglise de Saint-Etienne, rue Malherbe, and its rose window depicting the Wheel of Fortune.