Of all the stories of the greatest Gothic cathedrals, the tale of Beauvais is the most exciting. Construction of the Gothic cathedral began in 1225 at a time of bitter turmoil when France was establishing itself as a nation within its familiar modern geographical bounds. Beauvais, the tallest cathedral in France, was never completed, having endured two major collapses and a series of structural crises that continues to this day. Our Sketchup animation follows this dramatic narrative, allowing the viewer to experience and understand the famous collapse that brought down the upper choir in 1284 as well as the underlying design features that led to that disaster. Particularly intriguing is the visualization of the short-lived crossing tower constructed in the mid-sixteenth century and the rivalry between S-Pierre of Beauvais and Saint Peter’s in Rome.

It is hoped that besides appealing to a general audience of cathedral fans, this movie will be useful in the context of the classroom at high-school and university levels. The production was the result of the most rewarding spontaneous collaboration between an Emeritus Columbia professor who is a leading figure in the field of Gothic architectural studies, and a former student who is now pursuing his graduate degree in architecture and on his way to making his own mark in the field of architectural scholarship.

Directed by Stephen Murray

Produced by Myles Zhang

Special thanks to Étienne Hamon

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Further reading: Stephen Murray. Beauvais Cathedral: Architecture of Transcendence. Princeton University Press, 1989.

Visit Mapping Gothic for further photos and a panoramic tour of the cathedral interior.

Visit this link to download image stills of the cathedral at various stages of completion, for reuse in print publications.

Source files

Creating this animation required creating a computer model of the entire cathedral at all stages of construction. This model is shared below; click and drag your cursor to move around this virtual space.

Email mylesz@umich.edu and sm42@columbia.edu for access to source files.

High medieval music: Viderunt Omnes by Pérotin, 1198
Late medieval music: Ave Maria by Josquin des Prez, c.1475
Contemporary cathedral: Pierre de Soleil by Philip Glass, 1986