We made a change of plan over breakfast and decided to visit Notre Dame Cathedral in Amiens while we had the opportunity. We’d discovered that Wednesday, May 1st was a public holiday across the country. Most shops would be closed, but few people would be going to work, so the traffic would be light. And besides, there’s every chance we will no longer be able to visit Notre Dame in Paris due to the fire that destroyed the spire and much of the roof. Our breakfast host assured us that the Amiens cathedral was bigger anyway. “The one in Paris would fit inside it,” she said.
We walked the short distance from our hotel through deserted streets. There were very few people inside the cathedral, so we were free to wander quietly through the magnificent gothic structure and take it all in. The cathedral had suffered extensive damage during the Battle of Amiens during the Great War, but much effort had gone into protecting sacred artworks and relics at the time, and the cathedral had been meticulously restored after the war.
Plaques inside the cathedral acknowledge the sacrifice of the Australian troops in returning liberty to the city of Amiens and an Australian flag is also visible within the cathedral. Paintings, carvings and sculptures adorn the altar, the walls, the columns and other parts of the structure. Much of the artwork, of course, is of religious significance, but there are a few surprises. If you look closely, you will find skulls in a couple of places, and an icon supposedly bearing the head of John the Baptist (it’s currently being exhibited elsewhere, so we only saw a photo). A relief on a wall tells the story of the beheading of John in gruesome detail. Even as you leave the cathedral and glance up at the many small sculptures adorning the facade, you will see acts of violence in amongst the angels and saints.
We only had a couple of hours until we were due at Giverny, so we left the cathedral and headed out on the 130 km journey on a very, very foggy day.