Preparing for a Pilgrimage

Mapping Gothic

Once we decided to do a cathedral pilgrimage we had to choose the location and extent of our journey. Columbia University’s Mapping Gothic showed us that our task would not be an exhaustive one. We were going to have to be selective. Since the Gothic style was invented in the Île-de-France (the region surrounding Paris) it was logical to make that our focus. Mapping Gothic confirms that it has the greatest concentration of Gothic churches in the world.

Circumnavigating the Île-de-France counterclockwise, we could hit some of the best examples of Gothic churches while taking in the beauty and history of France. Our plan could not have easily been accomplished using public transportation, so we decided to rent a car. Since we were going to be traveling for about a month a short-term car lease made a lot of sense. You get a brand new car, full insurance, and unlimited miles. We were very pleased with our experience and it gave us the freedom to visit places off the beaten track.

For housing, we picked six strategically located cities to use as our home bases. We rented apartments from Airbnb and All of them were equipped with kitchens so we could cook most of our meals, saving time and money. We chose inner city locations close to cathedrals so we could revisit them several times during our stay (with the exception of Mont-Saint-Michel for various reasons).

Of course, a cathedral pilgrimage in France would be incomplete without visiting the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, the best-preserved Gothic cathedral in the country. Since Rouen has three magnificent Gothic churches itself, we decided to use it as a home base from which to visit Chartres. And since we would be in striking distance of Bayeux, which has a beautiful cathedral and the famous eponymous tapestry chronicling William the Conqueror’s conquest of England, we had to include that lovely city.

While in Rouen I kept looking at our itinerary and realized that when we went to Bayeux we wouldn’t be that far from Mont-Saint-Michel, so we decided to turn our day trip into an overnight stay in order to visit the ancient abbey. It’s hard to elevate one of our many experiences to the category of a highlight, but Mont-Saint-Michel is a contender. There really is nothing like it.

Finally, we made it back to Paris, spending two nights at an airport hotel. This allowed us to sneak into the city for a day before our flight home. Paris has so much to offer, but our concern on this trip was primarily cathedrals. We had to “see” Notre-Dame (sadly, that’s all you can do since it’s being repaired) and visit Sainte-Chapelle; those were absolute requirements. We didn’t visit Saint-Denis (the fountainhead of Gothic) or famous sites like the Eiffel Tower because there’s only so much you can do.

Lisa and her many talents made this trip possible along with the loving support of our community. Our deep dive into Christian France has changed my worldview. We are standing on the shoulders of giants.

 Lancets of the main facade of the south transept of Chartres Cathedral
“Bernard of Chartres said that we are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants, and we can see better and further than them not because our sight is more piercing or our size is larger, but because we are raised into the air and carried up into the air thanks to their gigantic height” Wikipedia

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage