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Visiting, Senlis, northern France, and its Medieval Cathedral: conspicuous by its spire

Updated on December 7, 2012
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Senlis Cathedral seen from the east
Senlis Cathedral seen from the east | Source
Map location of the 'arrondissement' of Senlis
Map location of the 'arrondissement' of Senlis | Source

A 'sentinel' for centuries, taller than Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

Situated in the northern French department of Oise, the Cathedral at Senlis is an ancient structure, impressive not only because of its Medieval origins but because of its conspicuous spire.

Some history and features

The impression of the Cathedral's height is increased by the fact that the surrounding area of Picardy (French: Picardie ) is very flat. The spire of the Cathedral thus stands as a perennial 'sentinel'.

The Cathedral, in Gothic style, was built in the 12th century, a period of French history which was a particularly significant amount of ecclesiastical architecture being built. Its remarkable 78-metre south tower (1), with multiple pinnacles, is said to have been inspired by Chartres Cathedral, and dates from the 13th century. (Given that the length of the Cathedral is 76-metres, the proportions of the south tower are thus heightened.)

The north tower is symmetrical with the lower part of the south tower, although it lacks a spire. The Cathedral's ornate doorway at the west frontage dating from the 12th century depicts various religious themes. Some features in flamboyant Gothic were added to the transept in the 16th century.

The 12th century choir was damaged in a fire in the 16th century; its subsequent repairs included an enlargement from its original dimensions.

Previously Senlis Cathedral was the seat of a diocese, but this was transferred to Beauvais by Napoleon in 1801.

One cannot underestimate the sheer power of impression and illusion which such Medieval, ecclesiastical architecture would doubtless have impressed the common people.


(1) At 78 metres, the south tower of Senlis Cathedral is thus slightly taller than the twin towers of Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral.

Also worth seeing

In Senlis itself, Gallo-Roman walls have survived; the Old Town has picturesque, Medieval passageways.

Chantilly (distance: 11 kilometres); its partly 16-century and partly 19th century château contains the Condé museum.

Noyon (distance: 60 kilometres) has a 12th and 13th century Cathedral and the birthplace museum of the Protestant leader John Calvin.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available. Paris is at a distance of 51 kilometres from Senlis . The French railroad company SNCF maintains a service between Paris Gare du Nord and Senlis. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      I remember camping at this beautiful old town as a teensger. I'm afraid that it wasn't the magnificent spire that sticks in my memory but the smell of the toilets!