Soaring higher than almost any other edifices built before (only the Pyramids were taller), the Gothic cathedrals of northern France were the wonders of their age. Thanks to the dynamism of their architectural forms, and the daring slenderness of their masonry, they are still awe-inspiring today. On this carefully-paced trip we trace the rapid development of the Gothic style – from its first complete expression in Saint-Denis, to the High Gothic triumphs of Reims, Chartres and Amiens. Of course, not all their innovations were architectural. Stained glass, sculpture and metalwork all played their part, presenting sophisticated theological programmes to an audience that stretched from the erudite to the illiterate.
Leave by coach from the Gare du Nord in Paris at 1pm for the royal basilica of Saint-Denis – final resting place of French kings from the 10th to 18th centuries. Its 12th-century choir was the first full expression of the Gothic style. Later, its Rayonnant nave set new standards for the size of windows. Then to Chartres for our first lecture, and dinner together.
Largely unaltered since is consecration in 1260, and miraculously well-preserved, Chartres Cathedral offers the most complete mediaeval synthesis of Gothic art and architecture in France. Here, stone, metal and glass work together in the service of theology. We spend the morning in the cathedral, before taking the coach to Reims.
After an excursion to spectacularly-sited, multi-towered Laon, we return to Reims for an afternoon lecture and a tour of the cathedral. The French monarchy’s coronation church, it saw the first use of bar tracery in its windows, which allowed for more glass and less stone in the structure – and therefore more light and colour.
We travel to the masterpiece of the High Gothic, Amiens Cathedral, famous for the thrilling verticality of its nave and choir, and the exquisite 13th-century sculpture on its western façade, which was originally painted.
Drive by coach to the daring and precarious Beauvais Cathedral, where the vaulting in the choir soars to a dizzying 157ft – Europe’s highest mediaeval vault. The trip ends at the Gare du Nord in Paris by 4pm.
Dr Richard Plant
After studying Art History at Cambridge, Richard went on to the Courtauld, where his doctoral thesis focused on English Romanesque and the Holy Roman Empire. Since then, he has specialised in the architectural history of the Middle Ages, teaching at the Courtauld and UCL as well as Christie’s Education, where he was Deputy Academic Director. He has written extensively on both English and German ecclesiastical architecture, and sits on the committee of the Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland – an online catalogue of 11th–12th-century sculpture at more than 5,000 sites.
"Richard Plant was very knowledgeable, but was also extremely approachable and friendly"
(a participant on Gothic Splendour in France in 2017)
£1,185 per person sharing in a double room.
£1,355 for one person in a double room.
Please note flights are not included.
The price includes the speaker and a tour manager, accommodation with meals as described below, transport by private coach, admissions to sites as mentioned in the itinerary.
Accommodation and meals
Included meals: daily breakfasts, one dinner (with wine).
We will be on our feet for long periods when we consider the cathedrals. The trip involves three hotel changes and some long coach journeys.
Maximum group size
Between 5 and 28 participants.
Please check www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice before you book to make sure you are happy with the advice for the places you are visiting.