Soaring above the town center is the tallest cathedral in France: the Cathédrale St-Pierre. You may have an attack of vertigo just gazing up at its vaults, 153 feet above the ground. Despite its grandeur, the cathedral has a shaky past. The choir collapsed in 1284, shortly after completion, and was rebuilt with extra pillars. This engineering fiasco, paid for by the riches of Beauvais's wool industry, proved so costly that the transept was not attempted until the 16th
century. It was worth the wait: an outstanding example of Flamboyant Gothic, with ornate rose windows flanked by pinnacles and turrets. However, a megalomaniacal 450-foot spire erected at the same time came crashing down after just four years, and Beauvais's dream of having the largest church in Christendom vanished forever. Now the cathedral is starting to lean, and cracks have appeared in the choir vaults because of shifting water levels in the soil. No such problems bedevil the Basse Oeuvre (Lower Edifice; closed to the public), which juts out impertinently where the nave should have been. It has been there for 1,000 years. Fittingly donated to the cathedral by the canon Étienne Musique, the oldest surviving chiming clock in the world—a 1302 model with a 15th-century painted wooden face and most of its original clockwork—is built into the wall of the cathedral. Perhaps Auguste Vérité drew his inspiration from this humbler timepiece when, in 1868, he made a gift to his hometown of the gilded, temple-like astrological clock (€4; displays at 10:40, 11:40, 2:40, 3:40, and 4:40), which features animated religious figurines representing the Last Judgment.