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 of Poitiers Cathedral
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 at Poitiers Cathedral
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
|Names:||Cathédrale de Poitiers · Cathédrale St-Pierre · Poitiers Cathedral · St. Peter's Cathedral|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||46.580318° N, 0.349454° E|
|Address:||Place de la Cathédrale|
|Hours:||Daily 8am-7:30pm (until 6pm in winter)|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Poitiers Cathedral|
- Personal visit (July 14, 2008).
- Informational plaque in the cathedral.
- Yves Bourdonneau, Decouvrir Poitiers et la Vienne (2006), 22.
- Darwin Porter, Frommer's France 2007 (October 2006).
- Poitiers Cathedral: The Choir Stalls - comprehensive photo guide by Stuart Whatling
- Photos of Poitiers Cathedral - here on Sacred Destinations
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.