Chartres Cathedral (Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres), a medieval Catholic cathedral, constructed in a Gothic style. It stands in all its glory, dominating the skyline of the medieval French town of Chartres, some eighty kilometres south of Paris.
According to legend, in the year 100 BC, a druid shrine and a sacred spring to a virgin mother stood here, and as such a Christian church was built. Legend or no legend, the remains of a sacred well exist in the cathedral to this day.
Chartres converted to Christianity in the 4th century evangelization of Gaul. A bishop was installed at Carnotum by the 5th century, as such Chartres church changed status, becoming a cathedral. The church would have been built of wood, and as such highly vulnerable to fire.
The Duke of Aquitaine sacked the cathedral in 743, and it was destroyed by the Danes in 858.
By royal decree, Pepin’s 8th century court had named the town as; “Chartres.” In response to the church being dedicated to the Virgin Mary and receiving the title: “Church of St.Mary.”
With the acquisition of the Sancta Camisa (The tunic worn by the Virgin Mary at Christ’s birth) in the latter years of the 9th century, Chartres therefore received divine protection. In 911 Rollo the Viking leader besieged Chartres. Had it not been for Bishop Gantelme, who called for the Sancta Camisa, to be brought before the Viking warriors, Chartres might have been destroyed, as it was the Vikings fled! Rollo converted to Christianity and took the title; Duke of Normandy, of the Norsemen province, granted to him by King Charles III of France.
In the year 1020, Chartres Cathedral was burnt to the ground, on the eve of the “Festival of the Nativity of the Virgin.” Bishop Fulbert took on the challenge to oversee the construction of a new cathedral. Fulbert used his personal income to finance the new build, and received further funds from King Robert II, Dukes of Aquitaine and Normandy along with the Count of Chartres – Blois.
The architect was Beranger, who expanded remnants of the former crypt, creating a vaulted crypt built in the Romanesque style.
Bishop Fulbert died in 1028, before the completion of Chartres Cathedral in 1037, when it was consecrated by Bishop Thierry, Fulbert’s successor.
Fire over the year’s played its part leading to re-construction and changes in design. In 1134 the Cathedral’s west end was damaged by fire, re-built in 1137 using the Romanesque style.
On the 10th June 1194, flames engulfed the Cathedral. The Sancta Camisa (Sacred Tunic) had been saved by two priests who entered the burning building, and took the relic down into the crypt for safety.
History tells us that nine knights discovered the Nasorean Scrolls, revealing a treasure far beyond their wildest dreams. Yet it was a treasure that they could not or would not share with the world.
One of the roles of the Knights Templar; they were Master Stonemasons. They designed and built formidable castles, chapels and cathedrals across Europe. They introduced holy geometry into building of Gothic masterpieces such as Chartres Cathedral in France.
In many Gothic Cathedrals across Europe, one would find the names of master builders responsible for construction and design of these awesome projects. They would cut their names into floors or walls, for they wanted future generations to know who they were.
When we stand back and look at the magnificent Chartres Gothic Cathedral, with its exquisite carvings standing proud for all to see and admire such works… one has to ask who these architects and builders were.
A mystery evolves before our very eyes:
Knights Templar: Bas-Relief depicting the Ark
The Knights Templar sought the “Ark of the Covenant” (The Ark of the Covenant has to be one of the most important religious artefacts. A wooden box overlaid with gold, containing the stone tablets, inscribed with the Ten Commandments), which was buried under Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Cut into the stone of Chartres Cathedral is a Bas-Relief depicting the “Ark.”
French architect; Louis Charpentier claims that the Knights Templar built Chartres Cathedral as a repository for ancient wisdom.
The Templar’s were men of God, and as such they wouldn’t want their names cut into the stone of Chartres.
Chartres Cathedral a gothic styled building, emerging in 12th century France, a style which flourished in the latter part of the medieval period. Gothic buildings contained pointed arches, large windows, clustered columns and soaring spires. The main gothic portion of Chartres was built between (1194-1220).
INTERNAL As one enters the Cathedral, what catches your eyes first has to be the Nave; measuring 16.4 metres wide and 44 metres long. The Nave is illuminated by two tiers of windows on either side, and by the Rose window of the western facade. One can’t help but notice an unbroken view from the western end to the magnificent dome of the apse in the east. Clustered columns rise to the high pointed arches of the ceiling, directing one’s view in the direction of the Clerestory windows in the apse.
The North Transept Portals illustrates the Old Testament and the Virgin Mary as precursors and preparations for Christ. Themes about the glorification of Mary in the centre, with the incarnation of her son on the left and Old Testament prophecies on the right.
The Northern Portals tell about the time leading up to Christ’s incarnation and the west facade is about the events of his life and Passion.
The South Transept Portals address the time from Christ’s death until his Second Coming. The central portal concentrates on the Last Judgement and the Apostles, the left portal on the lives of martyrs and the right on confessor saints.
At the east end, an ambulatory wraps around the choir and sanctuary, vaulted and divided from the latter by a carved choir screen. Erected in 16th century with sculptures added between 16th – 18th centuries. The choir contains 200 sculptures in 41 scenes, depicting the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary.
The stone floor bears an ancient Labyrinth used by monks in time of contemplation.
One of the most distinctive features of Chartres Cathedral has to be the 176 stained glass windows:
One of Three Rose Windows
The West Rose Window dates from the 13th century and its three lancet windows from 1150. The rose window depicts the Last Judgement; Christ in Judgement surrounded by Four Evangelists and angels, with scenes of angels blowing trumpets, resurrection, judgement, heaven and hell. The left lancet is the Passion and Resurrection Window; the middle lancet is the Incarnation Window; and the right lancet is the Jesse Window.
The North Rose Window and its five lancet windows were a gift from Queen Blanche of Castille in 1230. The rose windows depicts the Glorification of the Virgin: Virgin and Child surrounded by doves and angels, then Old Testament Kings and Prophets. Lancets from left to right: Melchizadek and King Saul, King David and Jeroboam, St.Anne and the infant Mary with the arms of the Royal House of France; King Solomon and Nebuchadezzar, Aaron and Pharaoh.
The South Rose Window and its five lancet windows date from the 1230’s. The rose window depicts the Glorification of Christ; Christ blessing surrounded by Four Evangelists and angels, then the elders of the Apocalypse, the arms of Cathedral donors. Lancets from left to right: Evangelist Luke over Prophet Jeremiah, Evangelist Mathew over Prophet Isaiah, Virgin and Child, Evangelist John over Prophet Ezekiel, Evangelist Mark over Prophet Daniel.
EXTERNAL Chartres Cathedral, built from limestone is noticeable by its mis-matched western spires. One is 105 metres and of Romanesque design and built in the 12th century, whilst the other is 113 metres high and built in the 16th century of gothic design.
This fine looking Gothic Cathedral, built in the cruciform style, with a long nave and short transepts to the north and south. The east end is rounded, and has five semi-circular chapels connected to it. The external measurements: 37 metres high, 130 metres long and 32-46 metres wide.
The high Nave is supported by double flying buttresses, anchored by colonnettes. An extra row of single flying buttresses supported the apse at time of construction and a third row was added in the 14th century.
Friezes on the Capitals left to the central door depict scenes from the life of Mary. The capitals on the left of the central portal depict Anne and Joachim struggling with infertility before the birth of Mary. Right of the central door are friezes of scenes from the life of Christ.
The left-hand portal centres on the Ascension of Christ. Christ stands on a cloud, supported by two angels. Below this is a relief with four singing angels and the bottom lintel shows ten seated men holding scrolls and looking at Christ. The archivolts are decorated with symbols of the zodiac and the labours of the months.
The right-hand portal, the tympanum bears scenes from the descent of Christ into the world, complemented by the Ascension on the other side. The bottom register shows scenes from the life of the Virgin including the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity and Annunciation to the shepherds. In the middle register is the Presentation at the Temple. In the upper level is the Virgin and Child enthroned between two censing angels. The inner archivolt contains angels whilst the outer depicts seven liberal Arts and Zodiac signs; Pisces and Gemini.
The cathedral has three great facades, each equipped with three portals which open into the nave from the west and into transepts from north and south.
The sculptures on the west facade depict Christ’s ascension into heaven, his life saints and apostles. Christ in the lap of Mary plus other scenes. Below the religious figures are statues of Kings and Queens.
Universe of Stone by Philip Ball
The Sword and the Grail by Andrew Sinclair
Secret of the Knights Templar by S.J.Hodge
Encyclopedia of Angels by R.E.Guiley
The Hiram Key by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas