La cathédrale de Chartres

The Cathedral of Chartres located in Chartres, about 50 miles from Paris, is considered one of the finest examples in all France of the "Gothic" style of architecture.

Construction

The existing Cathedral of Chartres is a French Gothic masterpieces. After the first cathedral of any great substance burnt down in 1020, a glorious new Romanesque basilica was built under the direction of Bishop Fulbert and later under the direction of Geoffroy de Leves. However, having survived a fire in 1134 which destroyed much of the rest of the town, disaster struck yet again in the night from the 10th to the 11th of June 1194 when lightning created a blaze that left only the west towers, the faÁade between them and the crypt. The enthusiasm for the project was such that the rebuilding began almost immediately. Work began first on the nave and by 1220 the main structure was complete, with the old crypt, along with the mid-12th-century Royal Portal which had also escaped the fire, incorporated into the new building.
The plan is cruciform, with a 427-foot (128m) long nave, and short transepts to the south and north. The east end is rounded with an ambulatory which has five semi-circular chapels radiating from it. The cathedral extensively used flying buttresses in its original plan, and these supported the weight of the extremely high vaults, at the time of being built, the highest in France. The new high gothic cathedral at Chartres used 4 rib vaults in a rectangular space, instead of 6 in a square pattern, as in earlier gothic cathedrals such as at Laon. The skeletal system of supports, from the compound piers all the way up to the springing and transverse and diagonal ribs, allowed large spaces of the cathedral to be free for stained glass work, as well as a towering height. On October 24, 1260 the cathedral was finally dedicated in the presence of King Louis IX and his family.

History

The church was primarily a church for pilgrimage in the 12th century. The fairs that were held in the surrounding area of the cathedral were attended by many of the pilgrims, for they coincided with the feast days of the Virgin Mary. In the Middle Ages the cathedral also functioned as an important cathedral school. Many French cathedral schools had specialties, and Chartres was most renowned for the study of logic. The new logic taught in Chartres was regarded by many as being even ahead of Paris. One person who was educated at Chartres was John of Salisbury, an English philosopher and writer, who had his classical training there. The cathedral was also the centre of the economy, the most famous landmark and the centre of almost every activity which is provided by civic buildings in towns today. In the Middle Ages, the cathedral functioned sometimes as a marketplace, with the different portals of the basilica selling different items; textiles at the northern end; fuel, vegetables and meat at the southern one. Once when ergotism caused many victims in the town, the north side of the crypt became a hospital to care for the sick. The cathedral was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1979.

Visiting the Cathedral

The spacious nave stands 121 feet (36m) high, and there is an unbroken view from the western end right along to the magnificent dome of the apse in the east. Clustered columns rise dramatically from plain bases to the high pointed arches of the ceiling, directing the eye to the massive clerestory windows in the apse.
Everywhere vivid colour splashes on to the floor from the superb stained glass windows. Dating from the early 13th century, the glass largely escaped harm during the religious wars of the 16th century; it is said to constitute one of the most complete collections of medieval stained glass in the world, despite ìmodernizationî in 1753 when some of it was removed by the clearly well-intentioned but misguided clergy. From the original 186 stained-glass windows, 152 have survived. The stained glass windows are particularly renowned for their vivid blue colour, especially a representation of the Madonna and Child.
According to legend, since 876 the Cathedral has housed a tunic that had belonged to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Sancta Camisia. The relic had supposedly been given to the Cathedral by Charlemagne who received it as a gift during a crusade in Jerusalem. In fact, the relic was a gift from Charles the Bald and it has been asserted that the fabric came from Syria and that it had been woven during the first century AD.
LINK : Site of Churches of Chartres