Chartres Cathedral: A Pilgrimage Through Time and Light

No Cathedral Pilgrimage in France would be complete without a stop in Chartres. The city was the most important intellectual center in 12th-century France, and Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres is arguably the best-preserved Gothic Cathedral from that period. Additionally, Chartres was a starting point for the main pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, originating in Paris. As we approached Chartres on our drive from Rouen, the Cathedral came into view, and we felt like medieval pilgrims.

Every place we went on our pilgrimage amazed and inspired us, but we knew this stop would be unique. It was almost hard to believe we were about to encounter this legendary place of worship as we left the underground parking garage. We arrived before noon and only glanced at the exterior so we could get inside before they closed the church for lunch (which never happened).

Professor Cook calls Chartres Cathedral the mother lode of original medieval stained glass. The staggering amount of beautiful blue glass lining the nave convinces you that he must be right. But the transept and choir are also liberally spangled with the blue crystal canvases.

As the keeper of the exceedingly important relic, the cloak of the Virgin Mary, it seems appropriate that among the treasure trove of medieval glass is a window depicting the Madonna and Child. “Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière” is one of 75 representations of the Virgin Mary in the Cathedral, but it is famous due to the extraordinary cobalt blue glass used.

An ambitious cleaning program has turned the darkened surfaces reflecting the Cathedral’s age into gleaming white Gothic beauty. One of the complaints about Chartres is how dark it is inside. The progress of the cleaning project is wiping away that criticism.

Complementing the newly brightened Gothic surfaces is the massive white stone choir screen separating the choir from the ambulatory. Built in late Flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance styles, it depicts scenes from the life of Christ. Again, Lisa was caught up in studying and admiring their sculpted magnificence while I attempted to capture something of their charm and virtue with my phone’s camera.

Finally, some unique features inside Our Lady of Chartres caught our attention. Firstly, the astronomical clock on the choir screen reminded me that Chartres was an essential place of learning in Medieval France. Secondly, the lectern ornamented with the signs of the evangelists on its four corners intrigued us. We only knew about the symbols of the four evangelists once we began to study Christian history in earnest. Chartres’ lectern inspires us to incorporate these symbols in our monastery.

We hurried inside to see the stained glass when we arrived in Chartres. But in my next post, I’ll share about the Cathedral’s facade, which has a vast and complex array of sculptures.

Index of blog posts for our Cathedral Pilgrimage