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Poitiers Cathedral

Poitiers Cathedral viewed from northwest in evening sunlight. Flanked by two stout, mismatched towers of the Transitional period (early 13th century), the facade features a Gothic rose window and… View all images in our Poitiers Cathedral Photo Gallery.
West facade of Poitiers Cathedral in evening sunlight. Flanked by two stout, mismatched towers of the Transitional period (early 13th century), the facade features a Gothic rose window and three…
View of Poitiers Cathedral from southwest. The stout, mismatched towers are from the Transitional period of the early 13th century.
Left portal in the Gothic west facade of Poitiers Cathedral, dating from the late 13th century. The tympanum depicts the Dormition and Coronation of the Virgin.
Dormition of the Virgin. Detail of left portal in the Gothic west facade of Poitiers Cathedral, dating from the late 13th century.
Nave of Poitiers Cathedral, looking east. Dating mainly from the 13th century, the interior is bright and spacious thanks to its lofty Gothic vault (30m high), slender white pillars, wide nave and…
The 13th-century choir of Poitiers Cathedral, looking west. The choir stalls date from about 1250 and are carved with a variety of interesting figures.
Carved misericord in the choir of Poitiers Cathedral, c.1250.
Bottom: The upside-down Crucifixion of St. Peter, flanked by Nero ordering the execution (with a blue devil whispering in his ear) and the martyrdom of St. Paul by beheading. Paul's executioner stands…
Carved corbels of the 13th and 14th centuries in the nave of Poitiers Cathedral.

The Cathédrale St-Pierre (Cathedral of St. Peter) in Poitiers was begun in 1162 but not completed until 1379. It has an interesting mix of medieval architectural styles, including Romanesque, Transitional and especially Gothic. Inside are many interesting carvings and some important medieval stained glass.

History

Construction on the cathedral of Poitiers, which stands over the ruins of a Roman basilica, began in 1162 under the direction of Henry II (Plantagenet), then king of England, and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. It was not consecrated until 1379, giving it plenty of time to adapt to the emerging Gothic style.

What to See

The flat east wall of the cathedral is from the 12th century and predominantly Romanesque in style. The north door (St. Michael's Door) contains sculptures from the Transitional period between Romanesque and Gothic.

The wide west front is flanked by two stout, mismatched towers and has a central rose window and three sculpted portals. The portals date from the second half of the 13th century and are in the fully developed Gothic style of Amiens and Reims. From left to right, the tympanums depict the Dormition and Coronation of the Virgin, the Last Judgment, and the life of St. Thomas. The upper part of the facade, including the rose window, dates from the 14th century.

The interior of Poitiers Cathedral is bright and spacious thanks to its lofty Gothic vault (30m high), slender white pillars, wide nave and aisles (30m) and a long vista (100m) down the nave. The corbel tables on the walls are carved with an interesting variety of human heads. The choir stalls (c.1250) have interesting and high-quality carvings on the misericords and spandrels.

The windows contain some important 12th- and 13th-century stained glass. Most notable among these is the magnificent central east window, which dates from the late 12th century and is said to have been donated by King Henry and Eleanor themselves. The lower part depicts the upside-down Crucifixion of St. Peter, flanked by Nero ordering the execution (with a blue devil whispering in his ear) and the martyrdom of St. Paul by beheading. Paul's executioner stands on his tip-toes in a dance-like pose, his clothing billowing with movement. Paul is shown blindfolded and kneeling in prayer.

Above these scenes are three small panels depicting the Women at the Empty Tomb. The sepulchre is in the center, with abandoned grave clothes and three flames burning in a lamp above. Two sleeping soldiers holding banners lie symmetrically on the left and right. The angel holds a cross on the left and the holy women approach from the right, holding staffs and jars.


Scattered throughout the lower part of the window are individual figures rising out of their graves, which may represent those that rose from their graves at the moment of Christ's death.

Most of the window is occupied by a very large Crucifixion of Christ, which is observed by the Virgin Mary, Longinus (with lance), Stephaton (with sponge), and St. John the Evangelist. Stephaton is depicted from behind but his face is fully shown, forcing him into an awkward position. The top of the cross bears the sign "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" written out in Latin.

The two panels flanking the top of the cross are populated by the Twelve Apostles, who look up in awe at the Ascension of Christ at the top of the window. Two angels flank the mandorla of Christ, their bodies dramatically curved towards him in a dance-like pose.

Quick Facts on Poitiers Cathedral

Site Information
Names:Cathédrale de Poitiers; Cathédrale St-Pierre; Poitiers Cathedral; St. Peter's Cathedral
City:Poitiers
State:Poitou-Charentes
Country:France
Categories:Cathedrals
Faiths:Christianity; Catholic
Feat:Medieval Stained Glass; Gothic Sculpture
Styles:Gothic; Romanesque
Dates:1162-1379
Status:active
Visitor and Contact Information
Location:Poitiers, France
Coordinates:46.580318° N, 0.349454° E  (view on Google Maps)
Lodging:View hotels near this location
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

Map of Poitiers Cathedral

Below is a location map and aerial view of Poitiers Cathedral. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.

References

  1. Personal visit (July 14, 2008).
  2. Informational plaque in the cathedral.
  3. Yves Bourdonneau, Decouvrir Poitiers et la Vienne (2006), 22.
  4. Darwin Porter, Frommer's France 2007 (October 2006).
  5. Poitiers Cathedral: The Choir Stalls - comprehensive photo guide by Stuart Whatling

More Information

Article Info

Title:Poitiers Cathedral
Author:Holly Hayes
Last updated:07/30/2010
Permalink:www.sacred-destinations.com/france/poitiers-cathedral
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