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Cathedrals 11:

Chartres - wonder of the world

West facade of Chartres cathedral
 
index
Cathédrale Notre-Dame, Chartres
plans of the cathedral
the buttressing of Chartres
some stained glass
the labyrinth
portals and tympana
last judgement tympanium
statues
to visit locally
background facts
bibliography
end notes

related pages:

Chartres cathedral seen over wheat fieldsCathédrale de Notre-Dame, Chartres

It is a waste of time and effort trying to dream up superlatives to describe Chartres cathedral. It is simply one of the wonders of the world. It’s the sort of place you must visit if you have a chance. It is pointless trying to describe it - you have to go there, watch the building looming up across Beauce's wheat fields, find a parking place in the quiet, rather non-descript town, wander about and then enter the cool temple of dark, light and colour to have your breath taken away. It hits you like a hammer.

Chartres is a pretty little town of about 39,000 people, with plenty high-quality bakers, patisseries and other boutiques. On the south side of the cathedral are a couple of good quality bookshops, while on the north side there is a glass museum and shop started by Gabriel Loire. He was, in my view, probably the greatest of the modern stained glass artists.

Chartres has been a place of pilgrimage, going back into the mists of time and legend. You can read about these matters widely and in many places. This page will concentrate on the marvel that is Chartres cathedral. Like many a place of pilgrimage, Chartres has its holy and miraculous relic, in this case a piece of cloth variously referred to as the veil of Mary, mother of Jesus, or tunic, or nursing dress. Naturally, this veil has been linked to various miraculous events and cures. This relic is so famous that it has appeared in stylised form on coins, tokens, pendants and other lead alloy souvenirs sold to visitors in mediaeval times, and on the arms of Chartres.

shrine of the Veil of Saint Mary, Chartres cathedralsouvenir pendant of Veil of Saint Maryl

Marker at abelard.org

“It is sometimes difficult to recall that the Cathedral of the Middle Ages was not only a holy place of prayer, but the centre of a vast ecclesiastical settlement, that it was surrounded by the dwelling places of Canons and priests, by schools of letters and of theology, by halls of judicial administration, and that, in itself, it was often a place of refuge, a fortress in which the inhabitants of the besieged city could gather to make a last, strong stand. The tendency of the centuries has been to relieve the Church of the cares of temporal government and to place the more technical and unspiritual branches of knowledge under the charge of national schools and lay instructors. With the passing of the mediæval customs and cares, the great dependencies of the Cathedral disappeared, the "Bishop's City" became a memory, and the Cathedral often remains in solitary grandeur to suggest the past.”
[Rose, Isle de France, pp.176-7]

Marker at abelard.org

“So far as she was able, the Church filled the land of these Bibles of stone, and such as still remain are mute but magnificent refutation of the too sweeping statement that she kept the knowledge of Holy Writ from the people and held them in mere ignorant subjection. To the clerics, the only class of men who had books and cared overmuch to read them, she gave her manuscripts and the care of preaching and interpretation; to the layman, who could read but little, or not at all, she gave pictures, many hundreds of different pictures, which told the story of her Faith; and, from sunrise until the night closed down, every one, from the proudest lord to the humblest old peasant, might find his Bible in the Cathedral, and might come as he would and study the Holy Book in stone, in fresco, or in glass.”
[Rose, Isle de France, pp.125-6]

Because Chartres cathedral was built over a relatively short period, about twenty-five years, the cathedral is much more integrated in its design and execution than many other cathedrals, built during several centuries and so with many designers and constructors.

plans of the cathedral

Floor plan of the Cathedral de Notre Dame de Chartres
Floor plan of the Cathedral de Notre Dame de Chartres

Plan of upper (roof) level
Plan of upper (roof) level

Plan of the crypt
Plan of the crypt

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New translation, the Magna Carta

the buttressing of chartres

Buttresses support the the weight of roof and walls, preventing the walls from collapsing outwards under the weight. With the walls no longer being the only load-bearing part of the cathedral's structure, vast opening could be made and filled with stained glass.

To ensure the entrance of daylight and the visibility of the windows, the buttresses were built so they would not obscure or shade the windows. The buttressing of Chartres cathedral is an example demonstration of this technique.

Here are photographs of the cathedral's south side. The face-on picture [left] shows how the buttresses are placed between the windows rather than across them, while the side view [right] shows how the buttresses bulk is reduced to minimise shadows and to allow more light to enter through the windows. The letters A, B, C, D match the same buttresses on the face-on and side views.

buttresses of Chartres cathedral, an old postcard buttresses of Chartres cathedral, an old postcard

The left-hand photo just above also illustrates where the different types of stained glass windows are located within the nave of cathedral.

Windows like Saints Christopher and Nicaise and Saints Laumer and Mary of Egypt are on the upper level of glass, while story windows of the lives of saints such as Saint Thomas à Becket and other worthies like Charlemagne, and educational windows, say the zodiac and people’s labours, are on the lower level. This makes them easier for the congregation to see and study.

For more detail, go to the buttresses and roof of Chartres cathedral.

 

some stained glass

As with any good art gallery, the visitor can spend many hours and many visits to appreciate the glass. To help the visitor prepare, abelard has chosen a number of the most interesting and spectacular stained glass from the 200-odd windows (depending on how they are counted). abelard has also chosen a variety of medallion shapes.

The stained glass windows of Chartres date back to the early 13th century. This type of window appeared in the early 12th century, but stopped being used in the middle of the 13th century. The luminous nature of the handmade, thick but uneven glass enhances the light passing through it.

[Note the numbered glass examples are located in the chart just below on the right. For why the glass is numbered thus.]

saint george Numbering stained glass windows at Chartres cathedral

133 Saint George
windows - blood and guts

One version of numbering stained glass windows
at Chartres cathedral used in this page

story of Saint Thomas à Becket


18 Saint Thomas à Becket [on left]

  1. - 25 entombment of Becket
  2. - 23 Murder of Becket
  3. Murderers don their armour
  4. Becket enters Canterbury cathedral
  5. Becket speaks with three knights
  6. Henry II and Becket
  7. Henry II speaks to a cleric
  8. Becket returns to England
  9. Becket, the Pope and a king
  10. Becket and Louis VII
  11. - 13 group of monks greets B
  12. Becket and Pope Alexander III
  13. Becket leaves for exile
  14. Becket before Henry II
  15. Becket consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury
  16. Becket (?) on horseback arrives at a town
  17. Becket before Henry II
  18. Two armed men follow a group of people
  19. Becket leaves a town, pursued by an armed man
  20. 2, 3 Donors: tanners

Below is an enlargement of medallion 23 - the murder of Becket

January and February window

28 the zodiac and people’s labours [on left]

 the zodiac and people's labours
  • early 13th century
  • Zodiac signs generally on right
  • dominant labour of equivalent month to left
  • central quatrefoils have monthly labour and zodiac sign:
    lowest is January/Aquarius,
    then May/Gemini,
    July/Leo,
    October/Scorpio,
    at the top is Christ sitting between Alpha and Omega
Below is an enlargement of the lowest five medallions.
Top left: foot warming, February.
Top right: Pisces
Centre: Aquarius and the New Year (Janus) with three faces
Bottom left: window donor - the vinegrowers
Bottom right: window donor - Count Thibault VI of Champagne, on behalf of Thomas, Count of Perche, killed at the battle of Lincoln, 1217
January and February window

20 Saint Martin
 
07 Life of Charlemagne
charlemagne
  1. Christ in Majesty
  2. The funeral cortege in Tours awaiting Martin's body
  3. Martin's soul carried to Abraham's bosom
  4. Martin's body is carried towards Tours
  5. The people of Tours steal Martin's body and carry it up the Loire
  6. Censing angel honouring the Saint's passing
  7. The people of Poitiers and Tours fighting over Martin's body
  8. Censing angel honouring the Saint's passing
  9. Death of St Martin
  10. Censing angel honouring the Saint's passing
  11. Martin at the banquet of Emperor Maximus
  12. Censing angel honouring the Saint's passing
  13. Martin kisses a leper outside the gates of Paris and cures him
  14. Martin heals a servant of the proconsul Tetradius (right half)
  15. Witnesses to the encounter between Martin and Tetradius
  16. Martin heals a servant of the proconsul Tetradius (left half)
  17. Relatives of the paralysed girl
  18. Martin heals a paralysed girl in Treves
  19. A doctor attending the paralysed girl
  20. Martin preaching to a crowd from a pulpitum
  21. People listening to Martin preaching
  22. Martin expels a demon from a possessed man's backside
  23. Martin pauses a rustic funeral to check they are not idolaters
  24. Eye witnesses to the miracles in the adjacent panels
  25. Martin reveals the true identity of the unknown occupant of a shrine
  26. Citizens of Tours debating the election of their new bishop
  27. Martin is ordained as Bishop of Tours
  28. Citizens of Tours debating the election of their new bishop
  29. Martin escapes injury from the cutting down of a sacred pine tree
  30. Two brigands about to attack St Martin
  31. Martin is attacked by brigands, one of whom saves his life
  32. Martin is appointed as an exorcist by St Hillaire
  33. Signature panel (cobbler trimming the sole of a shoe)
  34. St Martin revives the catechumen who died without baptism
  35. Signature panel (cobbler stitching a shoe)
  36. Martin is baptised
  37. Signature panel (cobbler scraping a hide with a lunellum)
  38. In a dream, Christ thanks Martin and returns his cloak
  39. Signature panel (cobbler preparing a hide)
  40. St Martin divides his cloak and gives half to a naked beggar

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

xx
07 Life of Charlemagne

116 Saints Christopher and Nicaise
116 Saints Christopher and Nicaise
xx
142 Saints Laumer and Mary of Egypt
142 Saints Laumer and Mary_egyptien
116 (rose) John Baptist with the Agnus Dei    142 (rose) a sainted bishop with 2 monks
(left) Saint Christopher and Saint Nicaise (right) donor Jean Clement receives an ensign from St Denis;
(below) arms of Jean Clement
  (left) St Laumer;
below: St Malard, Bishop of Chartres
(right) St Mary of Egypt;
Zosimus and the lion below [enlargement]


part of Notre Dame Belle Verriere
30a part of Notre Dame Belle Verriere
One of most famous windows in France,
on a par with glass at Poitiers and Le Mans.

 

 

 

 

 

right: 123 grisaille window

 
Zosimus and lion
Where's the lion? There he is - looks like a Golden Retriever to me. Stained glass windows are replete with such details. To find these details in the 200 windows at Chartres would take years.
 
  grisaille window at Chartres cathedral

the labyrinth

The labyrinth at Chartres - stylysied

right: Labyrinth at Chartres, 1696

Labyrinth at Chartres, late 17th century

The floor labyrinth was laid in 1205, and was used by the monks for walking contemplation. It is still used by pilgrims. There is only one path 964 feet long. At the centre of the labyrinth there used to be a metal plate showing figures of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur, the characters in the classical myth of the Minos labyrinth.

The circumference of the labyrinth is 40 metres (131 feet).

related document:
cathedral labyrinths and mazes in France illustrated

portals and tympana

[Note : the French word for tympanum is tympan.]

The three main entrances of Chartres - the West front, the North front and the South front - each have three huge porches. Chartres is impressive in having three separate triple-doorways, complete with statuary, tympanum and archivaults. These three main entrances are on the west front, and the north and south transepts.

Porches at Chartres cathedral
At Chartres cathedral, north transept, east side

A : tympanum      B : lintel or architrave
C : archivaults      D : statuary (the statue between the doors is a trumeau)

The tympana provide illustrations to Christian symbolism, the life of Jesus and to the lives of saints.

west facade, typanum on the central door of the royal portal
west facade, typanum on the central door of the royal portal

Here, the statues surrounding Jesus are the symbols of the four evangelists:
Matthew - winged man or angel,
John - eagle,
Mark - winged lion,
Luke - winged ox or bull.

south portal tympanum
south portal, east (right) tympanum
illustrating good deeds of Saint Martin (to left) and Saint Nicholas (to right)

On one of the typana of the south portal is illustrated good deeds made by Saint Martin (to left) and Saint Nicholas

Lower left: the Roman soldier Martin, on horseback, cuts his military cloak in half. He shares it with a beggar at the gate of Amiens.
Upper left: Martin asleep, with his servant lying on the floor. Jesus appears wrapped in the half cloak Martin had given to the beggar.

Lower right: Nicholas, protector of virgins and origin of Father Christmas, drops a purse containing three dowries into the house of a sick nobleman. His poverty means he must sell his three daughters into prostitution.
Upper right: Sick people visiting the tomb of Saint Nicholas are cured by oils oozing from the tomb.

last judgement tympanum

Several French cathedrals have a Last Judgement tympanum. these include Poitiers, Reims, Bourges, Amiens, Notre Dame de Paris, Conques, Aveyron, Autun, Moissac, Bazas.

Here is the Last judgement tympanum at Chartres cathedral:


Last judgement tympanum on the south portal at Chartres

Here, Jesus is in the centre showing the wounds of the crucifixion (the Passion). He is flanked by Mary and St. John the Evangelist. Above, angels carry the "instruments of Christ's Passion" - cross, crown of thorns, nails, lance, column and whip. Below are souls going to their judgement.

 

statues

The portals and tympana are just one part of the vast assembly of statuary to be seen both outside and inside Chartres cathedral. Like the stained glass, the statues inform, educate, celebrate and commemorate. There are thousands of statues, depending on how you count - statues within statues, scenes with several characters, decorations and embellishments - ranging from column statues to bas reliefs to tomb covers. As with the stained glass, abelard has chosen just a few examples to whet the visitor's visual appetite.

To the right are statues from the right bay of the North Porch - consecrated to Old Testament prefigurations of Jesus and his bride, the Church. Here is shown the column statues on the left. They are thought to represent:
• Balaam standing on his ass;
• The Queen of Sheba, a figure for the Church, leans towards Solomon. Beneath her feet is her Ethiopian slave;
• Solomon prefiguring Jesus in his wisdom; his judgement, and in having built the temple. Beneath him is a scribe recording his laws.

Note how each person stands on an object that relates to their history or significance.

Marker at abelard.org

Below: Bas-relief of the nativity, dating from the 13th century, from the reign of Saint Louis, came from the rood screen which had been destroyed in 1763, when religious customs changed. No longer was the high altar and choir to be hidden from the common congregation in the nave. The screen's stones were then used to make the paving for the entrance to the sanctuary. It was only in 1849, when the paving was lifted that enough pieces were recovered to be put in a small archeological museum in the crypt dedicated to St. Martin.

From 1210 to 1260, during the Saint Louis' reign, as part of the strong artistic movement that manifested in France at the time, there was a Chartraine school of sculpture, that trained several master sculptors.

Nativity bas-relief, 13th century

Three statues from the north porch

 

to visit locally

The late Gabriel Loire, who I would regard as probably the best modern stained glass artist, was based in Chartres, his studio, showroom and shop being adjacent to the north facade of the cathedral. As well as seeing samples of his work in the showroom, several local buildings, such as hotels, have examples of his work. After Gabriel Loire's death in 1996, the studio continues under the management of Gabriel Loire's son and grandsons. However, they do not have the eye and talent of their recent ancestor.

During his life, Gabriel Loire made over 450 stained glass installations in France, as well as many others in Britain, Ireland, Germany, the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Chile, South Africa. In England, his stained glass can be seen at

  • Saint Richard's Church, Chichester (1963)
  • Saint Peter's Church, East Withery (1963)
  • Holycross Church, Ryde, Isle of Wight (1971 & 1988)
  • Chapel of the Trinity, Salisbury Cathedral (1964)
  • Saint Mary's College Chapel, Twickenham (1963-5)
    This last is a spectacular example of modern stained glass.
Background facts
ChartresChartres coat of arms

approximate population : 39,160
average altitude/elevation : 140 m

Chartres is in département 28, Eure-et-Loir.

cathedral dimensions
overall length : 130 m / 430 ft
overall width : 32 m / 105 ft
nave, length : 73 m
transept width : 46 m / 151 ft
width of nave : 16.4 m / 54 ft
height of nave : 37 m / 121 ft

diameter, large rose : 13.4 m
width, west front : 47.5 m
height, south-west tower: 105 m / 144 ft
height, north-west tower: 113 m / 371 ft
ground area: 10,875 sq. m / 117,060 sq f

Marker at abelard.org

bibliography

Guide to Chartres cathedral

Guide to Chartres cathedral

Editions Houvet-La Crypte, Chartres, pbk, 1990

ASIN: B000XD411S

amazon.com
amazon.co.uk

This is almost a telephone directory of the stained glass and statuary (statues) of the cathedral. The book has been around in various versions for most of a hundred years. Thus it is cheap and easy to obtain.
Four GoldenYak (tm) award

Bread, wine and money by Jane Welch Williams

Bread, wine and money: the windows of the trades at Chartres Cathedral
by Jane Welch Williams

University of Chicago Press, pbk, 1993

ISBN-10: 0226899136
ISBN-13: 978-0226899138

$50.00 [amazon.com]
£31.83 [amazon.co.uk]

A strange and disorganised book, written by a Marxist whose main concern appears to be proving that the peasants were oppressed, even during the great cathedral building enthusiasm. In my view, she doesn’t make an impressive, or even interesting, case.

However, her analysis of the glass and related statues is very interesting and competent, if you can plough your way through the muddle. The text is only about 110 pages, while the ropey photographs are relegated to the back of the book. Hence enormous extra effort must be expended, flicking back and forth.

Jane Welch Williams’s analysis is made under three headings, following the books title.
bread - the main wealth of the Chartres region
wine - I’m not clear where she’s going with this section
money - this is where she is remarkably well-informed.
Four GoldenYak (tm) award

La cathedrale de Chartres

La Cathédrale de Chartres
by René Merlet

Henri Laurens, Paris, pbk, approx. 1900s

(series: Petites monographies des grands édifices de la France)

La Cathedrals and cloisters of Northern France by E. W.Rose

Cathedrals and cloisters of Ile de France
by Elise Whitlock Rose

Knickerbocker Press, part of G. Putnam’s Sons, 1910

vol. II: pp. 3-54

 

Les vitraux du Centre et des Pays de la Loire

Les vitraux du Centre et des Pays de la Loire
Collection Corpus Vitrearum, vol. 2

Editions CNRS, 1981

ISBN-10: 2222027802
ISBN-13: 978-2222027805

pp. 25-47

Timber 4: Dating of the Roof Timbers at Lincoln Cathedral

English Heritage Research Transactions Vol 7: Timber: Dating of the Roof Timbers at Lincoln Cathedral by Jeanne Marie Teutonico, R.R. Laxton, C.D. Litton, and R.E. Howard

£33.25 [amazon.co.uk]
amazon.com
[amazon.com]

James & James (Science Publishers) Ltd; Volume 7, 2001, pbk
ISBN-10: 1902916034
ISBN-13: 978-1902916033

A short, 80-page introduction for enthusiasts. Four GoldenYak (tm) award


Chartres cathedral 3-D puzzle
Base: 13.5" x 24"/35 x 61 cm, height: 17.5"/44cm

96-page paperback book with 35 pages of heavy card printed in colour, to cut out and make into 1/250th scale model.
Text in French with English, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese transmations included.

Note that the French publisher, L'Instant Durable, appears to only sell its publications through online outlets such as amazon.

Cathédrale de Chartres
by Thierry Hatot, Anne-Marie Piaulet, Bernard de Montgolfier

L'Instant Durable/Paper Models International, 1990

ISBN-10: 2864040425
ISBN-13: 978-2864040422

amazon.com from $74
amazon.co.uk from £74

 

end notes

  1. Saint Zosimus of Phoenicia was on the way to Caesarea when a hungry lion leapt upon the monk’s donkey, then dragged it away to eat. On refinding the lion, Zosimus said, “I do not have sufficient strength to carry my load because of old age. So you carry it, and then you can return to the wilderness and be fierce again as lions are.” The lion docilely carried Zosimus's load to Caesarea, where the monk set him free.

Some reference keywords/tags:
Chartres Cathedral,Cathedrale,photos,image,images,photograph,picture,pics,France,Gothic architecture,saints,apostles,martyr,statue,iconography,symbol,Notre-Dame de Paris,

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