Detail, Noah Window, Chartres

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral is the home of the most famous medieval stained glass windows in the world. Hardly surprising, when you think of the amazing feat of its construction – every single piece of the window has some painting on it, either forming part of the religious narrative or for decorative purposes. In fact, there was so much painting to do, that the traditional three tonal procedure of firing the trace lines, followed by two matt applications was largely abandoned.

Instead, basic trace lines were augmented with a simple wash, and sometimes even the wash was left out.

This gave the work a freer style, but meant a loss in legibility from below, as the figures weren’t so well defined.

Chartres Cathedral was rebuilt in 1194 after a near-devastating fire, and the stained glass created from between c.1200-1240.

New developments in architecture meant bigger windows – and boy, did they capitalise on that! The religious significance of stained glass is largely lost to us today, but it’s worth quoting the Bishop of Durand de Mende here, to underline just how serious a role it had in the early 13th century: ‘stained glass windows, through which the clarity of the sun is transmitted, signify the Holy Scriptures, which banish evil from us and enlighten our being’.

Whether you’re religious or not, I defy anyone to resist the power of stained glass to uplift and enlighten – banishing evil is a slightly more tricky proposition though!

Another important role of medieval stained glass was to impart religious stories to a largely illiterate populace, and here there was some attempt to create a coherent visual scheme.

The upper windows of the apse were devoted to the Glorification of the Virgin Mary – in fact the whole cathedral was dedicated to her – and the western wall of the nave concentrated on the Life and Passion of Christ, with the rose above featuring the Last Judgement.

However, all hopes of a logical scheme went to pot when the tastes and preferences of individual donors kicked in. Here we see fur merchants happily going about their business – it’s like having a full-page advert in a national newspaper, shouting ‘wealth’ and ‘success’. You can’t knock it too much though – without this patronage it’s doubtful that there would have been so many windows or that they would’ve been finished in such an amazingly short space of time.

Helpful Resources

This short video from the World Heritage Site gives a really good overview of the cathedral stained glass scheme, with delightful details of Noah’s Ark and the individual animals on board. Nice English accent, too. worl-2022/9441/image_yJ2pe0Zd4Lirhw60m.jpg 2016-08-01T07:38:54+00:00 Milly Frances Stained Glass Images Church Windows History Of Stunning Medieval Windows Chartres Cathedral is the home of the most famous medieval stained glass windows in the world. Hardly surprising, when you think of the amazing feat of its construction – every single piece of the window has some painting on it, either forming part of the. Milly Frances Milly Frances [email protected] Administrator Everything Stained Glass


Earlier Cathedrals Edit

At least five cathedrals have stood on this site, each replacing an earlier building damaged by war or fire. The first church dated from no later than the 4th century and was located at the base of a Gallo-Roman wall this was put to the torch in 743 on the orders of the Duke of Aquitaine. The second church on the site was set on fire by Danish pirates in 858. This was then reconstructed and enlarged by Bishop Gislebert, but was itself destroyed by fire in 1020. A vestige of this church, now known as Saint Lubin Chapel, remains, underneath the apse of the present cathedral. [3] It took its name from Lubinus, the mid-6th-century Bishop of Chartres. It is lower than the rest of the crypt and may have been the shrine of a local saint, prior to the church's rededication to the Virgin Mary. [4]

In 962 the church was damaged by another fire and was reconstructed yet again. A more serious fire broke out on 7 September 1020, after which Bishop Fulbert (bishop from 1006 to 1028) decided to build a new cathedral. He appealed to the royal houses of Europe, and received generous donations for the rebuilding, including a gift from Cnut the Great, King of Norway, Denmark and much of England. The new cathedral was constructed atop and around the remains of the 9th-century church. It consisted of an ambulatory around the earlier chapel, surrounded by three large chapels with Romanesque barrel vault and groin vault ceilings, which still exist. On top of this structure he built the upper church, 108 meters long and 34 meters wide. [5] The rebuilding proceeded in phases over the next century, culminating in 1145 in a display of public enthusiasm dubbed the "Cult of the Carts" – one of several such incidents recorded during the period. It was claimed that during this religious outburst, a crowd of more than a thousand penitents dragged carts filled with building supplies and provisions including stones, wood, grain, etc. to the site. [6]

In 1134, another fire in the town damaged the facade and the bell tower of the cathedral. [5] Construction was begun immediately on a new tower, the north tower, which was finished in about 1150. It was just two stories high and had a lead roof. The south tower, begun in 1144, was much more ambitious it had a spire atop the tower, and, when finished in about 1160, it reached a height of 105 metres or 345 feet, one of the highest in Europe. The two towers were joined on the first level by a chapel devoted to Saint Michael. Traces of the vaults and the shafts which supported them are still visible in the western two bays. [7] The stained glass in the three lancet windows over the portals dates from some time between 1145 and 1155, while the south spire, some 103 metres high, was also completed by 1155 or later. The Royal Portal on the west facade, between the towers, the primary entrance to the cathedral, was probably finished between 1145 and 1245. [5]

Fire and reconstruction (1194–1260) Edit

On the night of 10 July 1194, another major fire devastated the cathedral. Only the crypt, the towers, and the new facade survived. The cathedral was already known throughout Europe as a pilgrimage destination, due to the reputed relics of the Virgin Mary that it contained. A legate of the Pope happened to be in Chartres at the time of the fire, and spread the word. Funds were collected from royal and noble patrons across Europe, as well as small donations from ordinary people. Reconstruction began almost immediately. Some portions of the building had survived, including the two towers and the royal portal on the west end, and these were incorporated into the new cathedral. [5]

The nave, aisles, and lower levels of the transepts of the new cathedral were probably completed first, then the choir and chapels of the apse then the upper parts of the transept. By 1220 the roof was in place. The major portions of the new cathedral, with its stained glass and sculpture, were largely finished within just twenty-five years, extraordinarily rapid for the time. The cathedral was formally re-consecrated in October 1260, in the presence of King Louis IX of France, whose coat of arms was painted over the entrance to the apse. [8]

Later modifications (13th–18th centuries) and the Coronation of Henry IV of France Edit

Relatively few changes were made after this time. An additional seven spires were proposed in the original plans, but these were never built. [5] In 1326, a new two-story chapel, dedicated to Saint Piatus of Tournai, displaying his relics, was added to the apse. The upper floor of this chapel was accessed by a staircase opening onto the ambulatory. (The chapel is normally closed to visitors, although it occasionally houses temporary exhibitions.) Another chapel was opened in 1417 by Louis, Count of Vendôme, who had been captured by the British at the Battle of Agincourt and fought alongside Joan of Arc at the siege of Orléans. It is located in the fifth bay of the south aisle and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Its highly ornate Flamboyant Gothic style contrasts with the earlier chapels. [5]

In 1506, lightning destroyed the north spire, which was rebuilt in the 'Flamboyant' style from 1507 to 1513 by architect Jean Texier. When he finished this, he began constructing a new jubé or Rood screen that separated the ceremonial choir space from the nave, where the worshippers sat. [5]

On 27 February 1594, King Henry IV of France was crowned in Chartres Cathedral, rather than the traditional Reims Cathedral, since both Paris and Reims were occupied at the time by the Catholic League. The ceremony took place in the choir of the church, after which the King and the Bishop mounted the rood screen to be seen by the crowd in the nave. After the ceremony and a mass, they moved to the residence of the bishop next to the cathedral for a banquet. [9]

In 1753, further modifications were made to the interior to adapt it to new theological practices. The stone pillars were covered with stucco, and the tapestries which hung behind the stalls were replaced by marble reliefs. The rood screen that separated the liturgical choir from the nave was torn down and the present stalls were built. At the same time, some of the stained glass in the clerestory was removed and replaced with grisaille windows, greatly increasing the light on the high altar in the center of the church. [ citation needed ]

French Revolution and 19th century Edit

Early in the French Revolution a mob attacked and began to destroy the sculpture on the north porch, but was stopped by a larger crowd of townspeople. The local Revolutionary Committee decided to destroy the cathedral via explosives and asked a local architect to find the best place to set the explosions. He saved the building by pointing out that the vast amount of rubble from the demolished building would so clog the streets it would take years to clear away. The cathedral, like Notre Dame de Paris and other major cathedrals, became the property of the French State and worship was halted until the time of Napoleon, but it was not further damaged.

In 1836, due to the negligence of workmen, a fire began which destroyed the lead-covered wooden roof and the two belfries, but the building structure and the stained glass were untouched. The old roof was replaced by a copper-covered roof on an iron frame. At the time, the framework over the crossing had the largest span of any iron-framed construction in Europe. [5]

World War II Edit

The Second World War, in France, was a battle between the Allies and the Germans. In July 1944, the British and Canadians found themselves restrained just south of Caen. The Americans and their five divisions planned an alternative route to the Germans. While some Americans headed west and south, others found themselves in a sweep east of Caen that led them behind the frontline of the German forces. Hitler ordered the German Commissioner, Kluge, to head west to cut off the Americans. This ultimately led the Allies to Chartres in mid August 1944. [10]

On August 16, 1944, during the intervention of the American troops in Chartres, the cathedral was saved from destruction thanks to the American colonel Welborn Barton Griffith Jr. (1901-1944), who questioned the order he was given to destroy the cathedral. The Americans believed that Chartres Cathedral was being used by the enemy. The belief was that the steeples and towers were being used as a range for artillery. [11]

Griffith, accompanied by a volunteer soldier, instead decided to go and verify whether or not the Germans were using the cathedral. Griffith could see that the cathedral was empty, so he had the cathedral bells ring as a signal for the Americans not to shoot. Upon hearing the bells, the American command rescinded the order for destruction. Notre-Dame de Chartres had been saved. Colonel Griffith died in combat action that same day, in the town of Lèves, near Chartres. He was posthumously decorated with the Croix de Guerre avec Palme (War Cross 1939-1945), the Légion d'Honneur (Legion of Honour) and the Ordre National du Mérite (National Order of Merit) of the French government and the Distinguished Service Cross of the American government [12] [13]

2009 restoration Edit

In 2009, the Monuments Historiques division of the French Ministry of Culture began an $18.5-million program of works at the cathedral, cleaning the inside and outside, protecting the stained glass with a coating, and cleaning and painting the inside masonry creamy-white with trompe-l'œil marbling and gilded detailing, as it may have looked in the 13th century. This has been a subject of controversy (see below).

Liturgy Edit

The cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Chartres of the Diocese of Chartres. The diocese is part of the ecclesiastical province of Tours.

Every evening since the events of 11 September 2001, Vespers are sung by the Chemin Neuf Community. [ citation needed ]

  • 743 - First mention cathedral in Chartres in a text [14]
  • c. 876 - Charles the Bald gives the cathedral an important sacred relic, the veil of the Virgin, making it an important pilgrimage destination. [15]
  • 1020 - Fire damages cathedral. Bishop Fulbert begins reconstruction. [16]
  • 1030 - New cathedral dedicated by Bishop Thierry, successor to Fulbert [17]
  • 1134 - Construction of royal portal [18]
  • 1170 - Completion of south bell tower [19]
  • 1194 – Fire destroys much of city and a large part part of the cathedral, but spares the crypt and the new facade. Fund-raising and rebuilding begins immediately.
  • 1221 - New vaults are completed. The Chapter takes possession of the new choir.
  • 1210-1250 - Major installation of Stained glass windows in choir and nave installed [20]
  • 1260 - Consecration of the new cathedral in presence of by Louis IX (Saint Louis). Roof built over chevet, transept and nave
  • 1270-1280 - Sacristy completed
  • 1324-1353 - Construction of the chapel of Saint Piat
  • 1417 - Chapel of the Annunciation completed
  • 1507-1513 - North tower, damaged by a fire, is rebuilt in Flamboyant Gothic style
  • 1513 - Work begins on the choir tower by Jehan de Beuce [21]
  • 1520- Pavillon de l'Horloge clock tower loge begun on the north side
  • 1594 - Since Reims Cathedral is occupied by the Catholic League, Coronation of King Henry IV of France held in Chartres [22]
  • 1789 - Following French Revolution, church property seized and Catholic worship forbidden
  • 1792- Cathedral treasury confiscated by revolutionary government [23]
  • 1802 - Church restored to the Catholic Church for its exclusive use
  • 1805 - Restoration of church begins
  • 1836 - Fire destroys the roof beams and roof. They are replaced with a metal structure and copper roof [24]
  • 1840 - Cathedral classified a national historical monument [25]
  • 1857 - Completion of Notre-Dame-du-Pilier [26]
  • 1908 - Cathedral granted status of basilica [27]
  • 1979 - Cathedral is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site[28]
  • 1992 - New main altar by the Georgian-French sculptor Goudji installed in choir [29]
  • 1994 - Cathedral celebrates 800th anniversary of first reconstruction
  • 2009 - New restoration campaign, including cleaning and repainting walls to recreate original light colors and atmosphere [30]

Statistics Edit

  • Length: 130 metres (430 ft)
  • Width: 32 metres (105 ft) / 46 metres (151 ft)
  • Nave: height 37 metres (121 ft) width 16.4 metres (54 ft)
  • Ground area: 10,875 square metres (117,060 sq ft)
  • Height of south-west tower: 105 metres (344 ft)
  • Height of north-west tower: 113 metres (371 ft)
  • 176 stained-glass windows
  • Choir enclosure: 200 statues in 41 scenes

Plan and elevation – flying buttresses Edit

Chartres floorplan (1856) by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814–1879)

The elevation of the nave, showing the gallery on the ground level the narrow triforium and, on top, the windows of the clerestory

Flying buttresses supporting the upper walls and counterbalancing the outward thrust of the vaulted ceiling, allowing thin walls and greater space for windows

Flying buttresses seen from above

The vaults of the roof, connected by stone ribs to the pillars below, combined with the flying buttresses outside make possible thinner walls, and the great height and large windows of the Cathedral

The plan, like other Gothic cathedrals, is in the form of a cross and was determined by the shape and size of the 11th-century Romanesque cathedral, whose crypt and vestiges are underneath it. A two-bay narthex at the western end opens into a seven bay nave leading to the crossing, from which wide transepts extend three bays each to north and south. East of the crossing are four rectangular bays terminating in a semicircular apse. The nave and transepts are flanked by single aisles, broadening to a double-aisled ambulatory around the choir and apse. From the ambulatory three deep semi-circular chapels radiate (overlying the deep chapels of Fulbert's 11th-century crypt). [31]

While the floor plan was traditional, the elevation was bolder and more original, thanks to the use of the flying buttress to support the upper walls. This was the first known use in a Gothic cathedral. [32] These heavy columns of stone were joined to the walls by double stone arches, and reinforced by columns, like the spokes of a wheel. Each of these columns is made from a single piece of stone. The arches press against the walls, counterbalancing the outward thrust from the rib vaults over the cathedral interior. These vaults were also innovative, having just four compartments, unlike the six-part vaults of earlier Gothic churches. They were lighter and could cross a greater distance. Since the flying buttresses were experimental, the architect prudently added additional buttresses concealed under roofs of the aisles. [31]

The elevations of earlier Gothic cathedrals usually had four levels to give them solidity an arcade of massive columns on the ground floor, supporting a wide arched tribune gallery or tribune, below a narrower arcade triforium then, under the roof, the higher and thinner walls, or clerestory, where the windows were. Thanks to the buttresses, the architects of Chartres could eliminate the gallery entirely, make the triforium very narrow, and have much more room for windows above. Chartres was not the first cathedral to use this innovation, but it used it much more consistently and effectively throughout. This buttressing plan was adopted by the other major 13th-century cathedrals, notably Amiens Cathedral and Reims Cathedral. [31]

Another architectural innovation at Chartres was the design of the massive piers or pillars on the ground floor which receive the weight of the roof through the thin stone ribs of vaults above. The weight of the roof is carried by the thin stone ribs of the vaults outwards to the walls, where it is counterbalanced by the flying buttresses, and downwards, first through columns made ribs joined together, then by alternating round and octagonal solid cored piers, each of which bundles together four half-columns. This pier design, known as pilier cantonné, was strong, simple, and elegant, and permitted the large stained glass windows of the clerestory, or upper level. most notably Gothic churches. [31]

Although the sculpture on the portals at Chartres is generally of a high standard, the various carved elements inside, such as the capitals and string courses, are relatively poorly finished (when compared for example with those at Reims or Soissons) – the reason is simply that the portals were carved from the finest Parisian limestone, or ' 'calcaire' ', while the internal capitals were carved from the local "Berchères stone", that is hard to work and can be brittle.

The Flamboyant Gothic North Tower (finished 1513) (left) and older South Tower (1144–1150) (right)

Detail of the South Tower

Detail of the Flamboyant Gothic North Tower

The clock pavilion, with a 24-hour astronomical clock

The two towers were built at different times, during the Gothic period, and have different heights and decoration. The north tower was begun in 1134, to replace a Romanesque tower that was damaged by fire. It was completed in 1150 and originally was just two stories high, with a lead-covered roof. The south tower was begun in about 1144 and was finished in 1150. It was more ambitious, and has an octagonal masonry spire on a square tower, and reaches a height of 105 meters. It was built without an interior wooden framework the flat stone sides narrow progressively to the pinnacle, and heavy stone pyramids around the base give it additional support. [33]

The two towers survived the devastating fire of 1194, which destroyed most of the cathedral except the west facade and crypt. As the cathedral was rebuilt, the famous west rose window was installed between the two towers (13th century), [34] and in 1507, the architect Jean Texier (also sometimes known as Jehan de Beauce) designed a spire for the north tower, to give it a height and appearance closer to that of the south tower. This work was completed in 1513. The north tower is in a more decorative Flamboyant Gothic style, with pinnacles and buttresses. It reaches a height of 113 meters, just above the south tower. Plans were made for the addition of seven more spires around the cathedral, but these were abandoned. [34]

At the base of the North Tower is a small structure which contains a Renaissance-era twenty-four-hour clock with a polychrome face, constructed in 1520 by Jean Texier. The face of the clock is eighteen feet in diameter. [35]

A fire in 1836 destroyed the roof and belfries of the cathedral, and melted the bells, but did not damage the structure below or the stained glass. The timber beams under the roof were replaced with an iron framework covered with copper plates. [34]

The cathedral has three great portals or entrances, opening into the nave from the west and into the transepts from north and south. The portals are richly decorated with sculptures, which rendered biblical stories and theological ideas visible for both the educated clergy and layfolk who may not have had access to textual learning. Each of the three portals on the west facade (made 1145-55) focuses on a different aspect of Christ's role in the world on the right, his earthly Incarnation, on the left, his Ascension or his existence before his Incarnation (the era "ante legem"), and, in the center, his Second Coming, initiating the End of Time. [36] The statuary of the Chartres portals is considered among the finest existing Gothic sculpture. [37]

West, or Royal Portal (12th century) Edit

Central tympanum of the Royal portal. Christ seated on a throne, surrounded by the symbols of the Evangelists a winged man for St. Matthew, a lion for St. Mark a bull for St. Luke and an eagle for St. John.

Jambs of the center doorway of the Royal Portal, with statues of the men and women of the Old Testament

West portal, tympanum of left door. It depicts Christ on a cloud, supported by two angels, above a row of figures representing the labours of the months and signs of the Zodiac [38]

One of the few parts of the cathedral to survive the 1194 fire, the Portail royal was integrated into the new cathedral. Opening on to the parvis (the large square in front of the cathedral where markets were held), the two lateral doors would have been the first entry point for most visitors to Chartres, as they remain today. The central door is only opened for the entry of processions on major festivals, of which the most important is the Adventus or installation of a new bishop. [39] The harmonious appearance of the façade results in part from the relative proportions of the central and lateral portals, whose widths are in the ratio 10:7 – one of the common medieval approximations of the square root of 2.

As well as their basic functions of providing access to the interior, portals are the main locations for sculpted images on the Gothic cathedral and it is on the west façade at Chartres that this practice began to develop into a visual summa or encyclopedia of theological knowledge. Each of the three portals focuses on a different aspect of Christ's role in salvation history his earthly incarnation on the right, his Ascension or existence before the Incarnation on the left, and his Second Coming (the Theophanic Vision) in the center. [36]

Above the right portal, the lintel is carved in two registers with (lower) the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Annunciation to the Shepherds and (upper) the Presentation in the Temple. Above this the tympanum shows the Virgin and Child enthroned in the Sedes sapientiae pose. Surrounding the tympanum, as a reminder of the glory days of the School of Chartres, the archivolts are carved with some very distinctive personifications of the Seven Liberal Arts as well as the classical authors and philosophers most closely associated with them.

The left portal is more enigmatic and art historians still argue over the correct identification. The tympanum shows Christ standing on a cloud, apparently supported by two angels. Some see this as a depiction of the Ascension of Christ (in which case the figures on the lower lintel would represent the disciples witnessing the event) while others see it as representing the Parousia, or Second Coming of Christ (in which case the lintel figures could be either the prophets who foresaw that event or else the 'Men of Galilee' mentioned in Acts 1:9-11). The presence of angels in the upper lintel, descending from a cloud and apparently shouting to those below, would seem to support the latter interpretation. The archivolts contain the signs of the zodiac and the labours of the months – standard references to the cyclical nature of time which appear in many Gothic portals.

The central portal is a more conventional representation of the End of Time as described in the Book of Revelation. In the center of the tympanum is Christ within a mandorla, surrounded by the four symbols of the evangelists (the Tetramorph). The lintel shows the Twelve Apostles while the archivolts show the 24 Elders of the Apocalypse.

Although the upper parts of the three portals are treated separately, two sculptural elements run horizontally across the façade, uniting its different parts. Most obvious are the jamb statues affixed to the columns flanking the doorways – tall, slender standing figures of kings and queens from whom the Portail royal derived its name. Although in the 18th and 19th century these figures were mistakenly identified as the Merovingian monarchs of France (thus attracting the opprobrium of Revolutionary iconoclasts) they almost certainly represent the kings and queens of the Old Testament – another standard iconographical feature of Gothic portals.

Less obvious than the jamb statues but far more intricately carved is the frieze that stretches all across the façade in the sculpted capitals on top of the jamb columns. Carved into these capitals is a very lengthy narrative depicting the life of the Virgin and the life and Passion of Christ. [40]

North transept portals (13th century) Edit

Saint Anne holding the infant Virgin Mary on the trumeau of the central portal of the north transept

Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral

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The labyrinth set into the floor stones in the nave of Chartres Cathedral may be the world’s most recognized and famous path, yet it is surrounded in mystery.

Thought to be a representation of the spiritual quest of the pilgrim traveling to the holy land, labyrinths like this began appearing in Europe in the 12th century, mostly in Italy. The labyrinth at Chartres is a little over 42 feet in diameter, and is thought to have once been graced by an image of the Minotaur at its center (a motif common in mazes and labyrinths around the world).

There have been many theories and elaborate mythology surrounding the original construction of the labyrinth. It is most likely constructed in the first decades of the 13th century, but no one knows for sure exactly when the labyrinth was made, as no documents have yet been found, and little is known about the builders. An excavation in 2001 investigated claims that the center of the labyrinth was the site of a memorial or tomb for the cathedral and/or labyrinth masons, but despite extensive digging, no evidence was found to back up such claims.

Nonetheless, pilgrims have indeed been coming to Chartres to walk the famous labyrinth for hundreds of years now, and the tide shows no sign of slowing.

The Cathedral itself is a marvel of Gothic architecture, constructed over 26 years beginning in 1145. In addition to the labyrinth, pilgrims visit the site to see the Sancta Camisa, a relic purporting to be the tunic worn by Mary at Jesus’ birth, and the Puits des Sants-Forts, or the “Well of Strong Saints” – the supposed final resting place of early martyr saints who met a messy end. The Cathedral is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Although the labyrinth is partially obscured by chairs, it is traditionally uncovered every Friday from 10 am to 5 pm from Lenten season (usually around end of February) to the “day of the saints,” the 1st of November. Another outdoor labyrinth is located behind the Cathedral, in Les Jardins de l’Eveche.

Rick Steves: Awestruck at Chartres Cathedral

For a chance to experience the mystery of the medieval church through statues, glass and relics, France's Chartres Cathedral, just an hour from Paris by train, is ideal. The towering Gothic cathedral, marking the center of the town of Chartres, somehow captures the spirit of the 13th century — the so-called Age of Faith — in the 21st century.

In 876, the church — officially the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, honoring "our lady of Chartres" — acquired the torn veil believed to have been worn by Mary when she gave birth to Jesus. The popularity of the Virgin Mary was huge back then, and Chartres, a small town of 10,000 with an extremely prized relic, found itself in the big time as a major stop on the pilgrim circuit.

Then, in 1194, a fire destroyed the old church. The treasured veil was feared lost. But lo and behold, several days later, townspeople found the veil miraculously unharmed. Church officials and the townsfolk interpreted this as a sign that Mary wanted a new church. The people of Chartres worked like mad to erect this grand cathedral, gift-bearing pilgrims came as never before, and the church we see today was completed in 70 years. That's astonishing, considering that other Gothic cathedrals (such as Paris' Notre-Dame) took centuries to build. This remarkably speedy effort resulted in a much-appreciated unity of architecture, statuary and stained glass — preserving a relative snapshot of the time.

A fragment of Mary's venerated veil is still on display in the cathedral, kept in a gold frame — away from light and behind bulletproof glass. But today the cathedral is most famous for its stained glass and statues. Together, the glass and statues — created to inspire the illiterate medieval masses — tell the entire Christian story. In the "book of Chartres," as some have nicknamed the church, the text is the sculpture and windows, and its binding is the architecture.

Chartres Cathedral boasts the world's largest surviving collection of medieval stained glass, filled with stories and symbolism. (Photo: Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli)

Gothic architects learned to create a skeleton of support with columns, pointed arches and buttresses, so that the walls no longer needed to support the heavy stone ceiling but were free to hold windows. And with its vast nave — over 400 feet long and the widest in France — Chartres has plenty of room for windows. The cathedral contains the world's largest surviving collection of medieval stained glass, with more than 150 13th-century windows. The mystical light pouring through these windows encouraged meditation and prayer. While churchgoers in medieval times may have been illiterate, they were fluent in understanding the rich symbolism in the windows, and that filled their lives with hope.

Medieval symbolism is more oblique to modern visitors, though, so I recommend the help of a good local guide to illuminate your visit. Historian Malcolm Miller has dedicated his life to studying the cathedral and teaching visitors its wonders. In high season, Malcolm and his understudy Anne-Marie Woods give excellent daily cathedral tours for a small price.

Solemn World of Light: Chartres Cathedral

(Narration Text)
Chartres Cathedral is located south west of Paris. The building has four wings pointing directly North, South, East and West. Each wing represents the passage of time, from the past to the future. The front façade is located on the west wing.

The west is where the sun sets and represents the apocalypse: "The Last Judgment". The combination of light and stained glass portrays the apocalypse as described in the bible.

The north wing represents times past. There are images of the Virgin Mary and the prophets of the Old Testament.

The south is the contemporary world. Jesus Christ is in the centre surrounded by stories from the New Testament. This is the renowned "Blue Virgin window". The mystical blue of the Madonna's tunic is known as Chartres Blue.

Special devices support the high pointed arches of the ceilings and large windows. Flying buttresses are a unique feature of Gothic architecture. These reinforce the building from the outside. Such engineering made it possible for the structure to support high ceilings and huge windows.

Here, the fall of Adam and Eve. The next sequence is the story of Noah's Ark. Noah receives a revelation from God and with his sons builds an ark. Animals gather around. 800 years of history has taken its toll. There are stains and damages to repair. Craftsmen in this workshop have been restoring stained glasses for the past two centuries. Each piece of glass is carefully removed and an old plan is used to match it with the original layout. Damaged glass is replaced with material close to the original. The Chartres Cathedral is a museum to stained glass. It is hoped that this extraordinary heritage will be protected long into the future. (World Heritage)

Lost Secrets of Chartres Blue? History of color, and why astrology in a church?

A story instead of history? It happens.

Some people believe that making of blue color from the medieval stained glass windows of Chartres Cathedral was kept very secret, and the secret vanished. Since Middle Ages no one was able to re-create the famous Chartres-blue. Interesting story, very romantic, but simply not true. It is a part of cultural phenomenon involving romanticizing and sensationalizing art history. Specially the mystery of Chartre's blue was beloved during the era of Romanticism. Such sensationalizing happens most often in archeology, but art history isn't free from such exciting modern legends.

In fact, there are enough of ancient "recipes" for making stained glass which survived until today. Problem with medieval recipes is that they often don't makes sense, because terminology is confusing, like for example the idea that sapphire was added in making stained, glass, when this was also latinized name for saffer, which was name of cobalt oxide. Often the color is also affected by patina, impurities, or the main compound: the sand. Subtle differences matter, for ex. if the was taken from the river or if was sea sand. We can't know exactly, we know which compounds were added, but in which form we don't know. Also the combination of blue with other colors on the installed window itself makes it look specific way, using the optical principle of color contrast.

But modern glass makers are fully capable of recreating the" mysterious" or "lost" Chartres-blue. It is sad to think so little about their skills and talents. Maria Rzepinska in her expertly researched book about history of color mentions those recipes, and even tells how color of the glass mass changed in relation of time involved in heating in the glass making kilns.Known phenomenon, nothing new, just a reminder. Also some impurities, air bubbles, etc. which were the result of working in more crude conditions affect the color. Today's glass is extremely pure.

But there is the kernel of truth in this disappearance story: after the Age of Faith the Chartres-blue, or to be more exact, the presence of strong colors diminished to almost disappear from stained glass windows, to reappear during XIX c. in their full glory.

Stained glass window, with the Zodiac Sign of Pisces, Chartres Cathedral, via Wikimedia, photo taken by Dinkum

One thing: Zodiac isn't anything unusual in Gothic churches. Actually it was a common subject. Astrology was intertwined with astronomy, as other proto-sciences of the day were. Proto-science was called natural philosophy in those days. Zodiac itself represented to people God's role in creating order in Universe, and showed the idea that all things are inter-connected. Medieval people, even priests, didn't have problem with Zodiac. Zodiac wasn't esoteric in real sense, it was a perfect illustration of the idea of perfect order in the Universe.

The science of old was a mixture of experimentation, science, theology, metaphysics and superstition. The divide between science and theology, philosophy and metaphysics was drawn first during the XVIII c. Astrology was part of sciences and was legitimate than, and was as legitimate as anatomy today is legitimate part of medicine. During the Middle Ages astrology was part of medicine, and even clerics learned astrology. What the Church forbid in relation to astrology was the belief in fatalism, and astrology was supposed to be something which didn't determine human fate completely, it was supposed to give people some free will. Even Newton was still involved in a mixture of philosophy, theology, science and even alchemy. This of course relates to the history of science itself, but as you see art history involves partially history of science, not only in this particular case..

Here another one stained glass window, very jewel-like.

Stained glass window at Chartres cathedral, via Wikmedia, courtesy of Juan J.Rodriguez
As the there was no clear division between the rational and irrational in medieval sciences, as the division between science and religion didn't exist in the form as we see it today, the same was with fine arts and crafts. Art and crafts were woven together in the same aesthetic system, and art often imitated craft. For example the stained glass window as above was reminding of jeweled and enameled objects crafted by jewelry makers.

Mentioning Rzepinka again: she writes that people believed the only difference which existed between precious stones and stained glass was that the natural jewels possessed magic powers, and glass was not effective. Even clerics were writing that the powers and colors of precious stones were virtues given to them by God. We need to take in account the differences in human knowledge and thinking when interpreting art done by humans from eras long gone, if we want to understand their art more fully.

Jewel-like aesthetics in stained glass windows was later replaced by imitative qualities of painting. Even during XIX c. particular paintings were recreated as stained glass version, a tribute to the value of the art of painting. Painting became "true" art," stained glass became craft. But as it was the case with theology, mysticism and proto-science, there was no divide between art and craft, no value judgement in this regard. Medieval mind was kind of holistic mind.

I have chosen those windows not only because stained glass is such a strong mark of Gothic art, but also because shows the duo of blue and red, a color contrast of the Middle Ages.
Tomorrow more about medieval zodiac and science, more about blue in illuminated manuscripts.

Inside Chartres Cathedral Interior Features and Decorations

Chartres cathedral has three main portals - on the north, south and the west. I love to enter the cathedral from the west facade (aka Royal Portal) which leads directly to the central nave. Now let's get ready to go inside the cathedral and discover the interior features and decorations!

The Central Nave and the Aisles

A magnificent view along the nave with seven pillars on both sides, the pipe organ on the upper right and the labyrinth on the the central floor.

The central nave of Notre Dame de Chartres

Just after the entry portal - before the nave ( aka narthex ), there are the rooms beneath the two towers on your right and left side.

The room on your right side - beneath the south tower

The souvenir store on your left side - beneath the north tower

The room on the left side is now a souvenir store where you can buy postcards, souvenirs and guide books which are available in several foreign languages.

View over the west rose window of the 13th century

The nave of Notre Dame de Chartres is approximately 37 meters high. Here you will see the largest labyrinth ever built in France on the floor of the central nave.

Chapelle de Vendôme - the only chapel on the aisle (south)

The south aisle on the central nave (view from east) - at the far end is the audio-guide welcome desk

The north aisle on the central nave - view from east. Here you will find the welcome desk that sells entry tickets to the north tower.

The pipe organ hanging on the south wall on the nave

The actual pipe organ was reconstructed between 1968 and 1971 whereas the organ case was made of 14th and 15th Century wood and was reconstructed in 1542. The pipe organ case of Chartres cathedral is considered as one of the most ancient organ case in France.

Detail, Noah Window, Chartres - History

The Knights Templar, through the implementation of Gothic architecture (which included Sacred Geometry), constructed some of the most beautiful and long-lasting spiritual monuments in the world, the Notre-Dame Cathedrals. Of these cathedrals, one of the most magnificent and sacred is Notre-Dame-de-Chartes. It is simultaneously a spectacular architectural marvel & one of the most sacred spiritual sites in all the world. It is a place rich with historical significance and esoteric secrets.

The telluric earth currents are at their highest there, in Chartres. These spiritual energies were, and are, so special that the site was recognized for its divine atmosphere even in Druidic times. The location of Chartres is so deeply honored and respected that it is the only cathedral not to have a single king, bishop, cardinal, canon, or anyone interred in the soil of its mound. Originally it was a pagan site, dedicated to the traditional Mother Goddess - a site to which pilgrims travelled long before the time of Jesus. “The original altar was built above the Grotte des Druides, which housed a sacred dolmen”, and was identified with the ‘Womb of the Earth’. This was the chamber of the Black Virgin (Black Madonna), the Virgin who is to give birth to a Child, Our-Lady-of-Under-the-Earth.

It is said that the construction of the Notre-Dame-de-Chartres, in Chartres France, was completed in a mere 26 years! It is said that construction began in the year 1194 & was completed in the year 1220. However, this is only partially correct. The cathedral that stands today actually replaced a succession of several other churches that were built on the site. Each of the previous churches was razed to the ground (of these previous churches, The Church of Gislebert was totally destroyed by a fire on the night of September 7th in the year 1020. The bishop of Chartres, Fulbert, immediately undertook the task of its rebuilding, in the Romanesque architecture style of a white church).

However, in September 1134 a fire again tore through the town of Chartres. This fire burnt down the Hospital, which stood near the church, and reached the church itself. As a result of this latest disaster the church’s western porch and the conjoining belfry were lost. This necessitated another round of reconstruction on the church. Construction on the west front of the cathedral began around 1140. It was also as a result of this fire that the building of the towers we know today was implemented. These towers were not near the church but, instead, in front of it. And so it began and was done.

Disaster struck, yet again, on the night of June 10th in the year 1194. Another fire burnt all of the church, save for the crypt and the west front. Thus began the construction on the Notre Dame de Chartres in 1194.

Given that not all of the church that had been previously erected on the site was destroyed, the Knights Templar had quite a good foundation to start off from. In fact, most of the foundation work under the nave of the current cathedral dates back to that Romanesque church. The basic scheme of the choir and 3 chapels also date back to that same church. The chapel to the east of the choir, however, was added at a later date.

As has been said, Chartres Cathedral is quite an architectural feat, with many features that make it unique. The theatrical art on the exterior is tied to the public display of universal knowledge. It is also the only cathedral in France that was built, except for the towers, in one sweep!

This sacred monument contains the West Front, which predates the fire of 1194. There are also 2 towers, North and South, at the West End. The South Tower’s spire transforms from the shape of a square to that of an octahedron and finally comes to a perfect point. This spire, completed in 1160 and one of the earliest spires in all of Europe, also survived the fire. The North Tower’s spire was added later, in the 16th century.

The cathedral’s West Front, North Porch, and South Porch all have 3 huge doors. Chartres is unique in having 3 separate triple-doorways.

Even the 167 stained glass windows of Chartres are unique, dating back to the early 13th century. The usage of this type of window appeared in the early 12th century but vanished in the middle of the 13th century. The luminous nature of this type of window is superior to that of any other and it is far more effective in enhancing the light. Its interior lighting effect is the same, regardless of the degree of light coming from the outside. This special type of stained glass also has the unique power to transmute harmful ultra-violet rays into beneficial light! The secret of how this type of stained glass was created was never ever revealed or duplicated.

One large rose window, westward from the nave, was built above 3 lancets. This window depicts a sun and a rose, symbolizing Jesus the Christ as “the new sun” and Mary Tamar (his mother) as “a rose without thorns”.

Yet another most interesting aspect of Chartres Cathedral is the crypt and its contents. Chartres is said to contain the tunic worn by Mary Tamar at the birth of Jesus the Christ! The tunic is said to have survived the fire of 1194 while remaining in the crypt.

Here are some other interesting statistics pertaining to Chartres Cathedral:

  • Its total length is equal to 155 meters & has an interior height of 37 meters.
  • The West Front has a total width 47.5 meters.
  • The Nave has a length of 73 meters and a width of 14 meters.
  • The North Tower has a height of 115 meters.
  • Meanwhile, the South Tower has a height of 107 meters.
  • The large rose window has a diameter of 13.4 meters.

And so it is that the current Chartres Cathedral began to take shape in 1194 and was fully roofed in 1220. Interestingly, the Knights Templar also used Gothic architecture to build other Notre-Dame Cathedrals in the course of time, from the middle of the 12th century up until the early 13th century. Such cathedrals include those in Paris, Reims, and Amiens. Construction began in Paris in the year 1163, while construction in Reims and Amiens began in 1211 and 1221, respectively.

Hence, one can easily see why Notre-Dame-de-Chartres is such a unique & sacred place.

What Everyone Needs to Know

So not knowing everything is not the end of the world. We know that any movie or other history-based drama is necessarily going to take some creative license—giving Mrs. Noah a first name, for instance. What is more important is that we must be able to differentiate between what the Bible states and what is creative license, and identify points that may alter God ’s message.

It is God ’s message that everyone should know when they walk away from Noah’s account. The message that God is the Creator, that sin has consequences, and judgment is coming. The people of Noah’s time lived how they wanted to live up until the Flood took them. They never took the time to repent of their wickedness.

It is interesting that the Bible tells us there was only one door to the Ark ( Genesis 6:16 ). Similarly, there is only one way to enter into a relationship with God. Jesus said, “ I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me ” ( John 14:6 ). For those who believe in Him, Jesus is our one entrance into God ’s redemptive grace.

The Bible warns us that a second judgment is coming—this time by fire ( 2 Peter 3:7 ). People are turning from God , rejecting Him as Creator, and putting themselves in His place. God continues to be longsuffering, as He was in Noah’s day, but there will come a time when judgment will come. During Noah’s time the question was, “Were you standing in the boat or standing out in the world?” There was no hope of survival for the people outside of the Ark, God ’s means of physical salvation. In Noah’s day grace came in the shape of an Ark. Today grace comes in the shape of a Cross. The only way a person can be saved from the eternal consequences of their rebellion against God is to turn from that sin and trust in the Savior Jesus Christ—the way, the truth, and the life. Where do you stand?

Watch the video: Gothic: the Belle-Verrière Window of Chartres Cathedral (January 2022).