Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres

While not exactly close to Chartres, staying in Rouen put us within striking distance of one of the world’s most outstanding examples of Gothic architecture – Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. It is undoubtedly the best-preserved Gothic cathedral in France.

Chartres is an hour west of Paris, which is a perfect place from which to visit this pilgrimage city. We planned to circumnavigate the Île-de-France, so it made more sense for us to make our way there when we were in Rouen. It’s two hours from Rouen but an easy highway drive. The route passes through Évreux, another cathedral city we also intended to visit. In the end, however, we were much too tired to stop, having spent the day at Chartres.

Chartres Cathedral is simply marvelous. It stands as a testament to truth, beauty, and goodness. The church can awe and transform its visitors; history is full of those who testify to that fact. Being well preserved, we get a glimpse into the spirituality of the medieval world. Far from being a dark age, the medieval world prioritized reverence for God, giving us essential features of civilization that we take for granted (which we now find can be easily lost when we de-prioritize God).

As keeper of the relic of the cloak of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Chartres received attention and support from nobles and commoners across Europe. Enduring multiple fires, nobles and devout believers generously funded and personally supported rebuilding campaigns.

North facade window with the coat of arms of Blanche of Castile (French Queen who paid for the window).

It seems evident that divine providence has been at work to preserve the Cathedral. Several remarkable stories illustrate how God has protected Chartres Cathedral. During the dark age of the French Revolution, the townspeople prevented the revolutionary crowds’ madness from destroying the church’s north facade. Likewise, a local architect persuaded the Revolutionary Committee to not blow up the Cathedral by explaining that the rubble from the destruction would clog the streets for years.

A side alley next to the Cathedral.

During World War 2, the Cathedral was almost destroyed by Allied forces. The American command thought the Cathedral’s towers were being used as an observation post for German artillery, so they targeted them for destruction. The bravery and tenacity of an American colonel and a volunteer soldier showed that the Germans were not using the Cathedral. They rang the Cathedral bells to signal the Americans not to shoot. The command to fire on the Cathedral was revoked, saving it from the ravages of war.

Welborn Barton Griffith Jr., American Colonel who saved Chartres Cathedral from being destroyed in WW2 (image: Wikimedia Commons)

What makes the Chartres Cathedral so awe-inspiring are the building’s structure, sculpture, and windows. I will devote my next posts to these wonderfully preserved features.

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage