While PJ and I specialize in the Romanesque churches, we are fortunate to be able to photograph the great Gothic cathedrals as well. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis was built between 1153 and 1191. Thibaut, the Bishop of Senlis, was a great friend and admirer of Abbot Suger of Saint Denis and constructed his cathedral in Suger’s newly developed Gothic style. The cathedral was built without a transept and featured a single side aisle, four levels in the nave and a magnificent western portal. In PJ’s photo of the nave and transept you can see the alternating strong and weak piers that support the vaulting.
Senlis is one of the first generation of Gothic cathedrals that followed Abbot Suger’s Abbey Saint Denis; Laon, Noyon, Sens, and Senlis all commenced construction in the decade of the 1150’s. Like the others in this group, Senlis featured sexpartite vaulting over the nave. In this shot you can see the sexpartite vaulting in the nave and quadripartite vaulting in the transepts, which were built several centuries later.
The great sturdy side aisles also feature quadripartite vaulting. In this shot we can clearly see the strong and weak piers of the arcades, as well as sense the recent emergence from the Romanesque style.
By later Gothic standards, Senlis is fairly small – the church is 70 meters long and the nave is 23.5 meters high. Notre Dame de Paris, a mere generation later, has a total length of 127 meters and a nave height of 33 meters. Notre Dame d’Amiens, completed almost exactly a century after Senlis, has a total length of 145 meters and the nave height is an astonishing 42.3 meters.
The cathedral features a lovely ambulatory around the hemicycle of the choir. This pathway is graced with quadripartite vaulting that allows for the windows that provide such wonderful illumination.
PJ and I shot Senlis on our last day of the 2011 trip and it was a fitting send-off. We will return again to shoot some of the details, including the Marian west portal, which we did not have time to photograph last year. Sometimes I think that we omit shooting something important just to have an excuse to return again.