Tour La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais from anywhere in the world thanks to Dan Younger

by | Apr 4, 2022

The online virtual tour Younger developed is the culmination of a project he began in 2017 with the support of a grant from the UMSL Research Board.
Dan Younger stands near images he took of La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais

Dan Younger created a virtual tour of La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais, a 13th century gothic cathedral located about 85 kilometers north of Paris. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Dan Younger still remembers the sense of awe he felt walking into La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais for the first time in 2013.

Younger, a professor of art at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, felt like he’d made a magical discovery when he happened upon the 13th century gothic cathedral when showing some of his work at a photography festival in Beauvais, a French town about 85 kilometers north of Paris.

He didn’t know the church existed before that trip, but there was no missing it on his way in and out of the gallery where his photos were being displayed across the street.

The ornate facade didn’t prepare him for what he found when he finally stepped inside.

“I was just wowed when I first went into that cathedral,” Younger said. “To be standing there looking up at a ceiling 13 floors above your head makes you feel really insignificant. But I think that was the point. Their goal was to create this large space as a representation of God.

“At the same time, they built it with this amazing set of stained glass windows. Remember now this is the 13th century. People barely had windows, much less stained glass windows. You would go into this church, and you’d see this magical colored light. It’s an amazing thing to witness.”

He had his camera with him and tried taking some photos, but it didn’t take long to realize what he was able to capture with a conventional camera couldn’t come close to conveying the volume or majesty of the structure.

Nine years later, Younger has found another way. He recently published an online 360-degree virtual tour of the cathedral that allows people to “step inside” from anywhere in the world using their computer, tablet or phone at https://saintpierretour.com/.

Panono 360 camera set up on a tripod inside La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais

Dan Younger set up his Panono 360 camera on a tripod at different points inside La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais and took photographs for the virtual tour. (Photo courtesy of Dan Younger)

By opening the 360-degree tour full screen and enabling the gyroscope function on a phone or tablet, viewers can “look around” simply by moving the phone in any direction they choose from one of 19 pivot points spread throughout the church. They can get a sense of what it is like to stand inside the church, which has often been compared to its contemporary cathedrals in Chartres and Amiens. It was started in 1225, was consecrated in 1272 and features the highest gothic choir in the world, supported by flying buttresses.

A map embedded onto the floor in the viewing window allows people to keep track of where they are, in the incomplete church – whose planned nave was never constructed. Viewers can move around to the other parts of the cathedral by clicking on buttons that appear on screen ahead of them.

“It is not the same as actually being there, obviously, because you still don’t have the volume,” Younger said. “But there’s something about it.”

The online virtual tour is the culmination of a project that Younger began in 2017 with the support of a grant from the UMSL Research Board. The grant allowed Younger to return to Beauvais for about two months that summer to photograph the cathedral.

Only this time, Younger went armed not only with a conventional camera but also a Panono 360 camera, which is similar in size and shape to a softball and captures 36 images in every direction simultaneously.

Younger went to the cathedral every day, set up the Panono 360 on a tripod at different points in the church and made photographs, capturing the space at different times of day and with different light.

“In the morning, you get sunlight coming straight through, and it illuminates the whole choir and goes into the transept and it’s just gorgeous light,” he said. “It’s almost blinding, it’s so bright.”

Younger created thousands of pictures, editing them down to a collection that most effectively showcased the entire church.

Initially, he wasn’t sure how he could share them with a wider audience. He originally envisioned an exhibition, but it was expensive and he couldn’t find a gallery interested.

Several years went by without much progress, but Younger finally broke through the inertia when he discovered a program called Pano2VR. It is designed to convert panoramic or 360-degree photos into interactive experiences, which could then be uploaded to a webpage and accessed from anywhere on a variety of devices.

The software is often used to create tours of homes or apartments to buy or rent, but it proved an ideal tool to help Younger share his work – and the majesty of La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais – as widely as possible.

There was still the matter of the coding that needed to be done behind the scenes to create the website and build the links to make the virtual reality tour function as intended. Younger got needed help when he hired a former UMSL graphic design student, Miranda Murray, to design and build the site.

“She had another job and was working after hours, so it was a lot of effort on her part because things didn’t just line up on a screen,” Younger said.

Murray was working on the site for almost a year before it was finally ready to launch near the end of January – to Younger’s joy and relief.

Jennifer Fisher, an assistant teaching professor in the College of Education and the coordinator of art education, has shared the link to the tour with art teachers across the region, and Younger hopes they’re making use of it with their students.

“I wanted people to see it,” he said. “That’s the whole idea. It’s fun for me, but I’ve already been there. This is a little pale compared to being there, but it’s better than any flat picture.”

Younger also created a book 46-page book of flat images of the church, taken either with a Nikon D810 or a Sony A400 camera. The book is available for purchase on the tour website, and Younger is exploring getting the website introduction and book translated into French.

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