Saturday
May
26th
2007
1:03 pm

Chartres

I took a little day trip down to Chartres on Wednesday the 16th.

It’s an hour out of Paris by train, through some very green and lush country. Aside: each time I leave Paris, I return a little more dissatisfied with pavement and stone buildings.

The Cathedral is a prominent landmark: you can see it about 10 minutes before arriving in Chartres, and it’s easy to hone in on once you arrive. It’s also close enough to train station that I could easily remember how to get back!

When visiting the cathedral, Malcolm Miller’s tour is a must (at least for Anglophones). He’s 73 now, and literally wrote the book (Chartres Cathedral). He’s been giving tours twice daily (noon and 2:45) during the spring and summer at the cathedral since 1956; during the winter, he tours and gives lectures. I took his tour on my first visit 20 years ago. Back then, he solicited tips at the end of his tour; now, at the prompting of the government, which wants to be able to collect taxes, he charges a 10€ fee up front. (Well, that’s how he explains it, anyway.)

At the time of my first visit, the government had just barely started cleaning and restoring the stained glass windows. Now, twenty years later, they’ve made impressive progress, and I’d estimate that a good half of the windows (it looks as though all of lower tier windows, as well as the west and north rose windows and some other of the upper tier windows) have been done. Perhaps if I return in another 20 years, they’ll all be done!

They’ve also started cleaning the outside: the north entrance is done, and the south entrance is about to be shut and cordoned off so that they can restore that one. The north entrance, all cleaned up:
North entrance, Chartres cathedral

I showed up for both tours, as did a few other visitors, so Miller very thoughtfully changed his spiel so that we wouldn’t be bored. During the noon tour, for example, he walked us through the west rose window (left below), with its story of the Passion, the Nativity story, and the Jesse tree, going from left to right below the " rose"; during the 2:45 tour he walked us through the north rose window (right below), with St. Anne in the center, flanked by Old Testament patriarch below the rose. (We know it’s St. Anne holding Mary, and not Mary holding Jesus, he explained, because the child’s halo doesn’t have the cross that marks Jesus. Not that you can pick up that detail from the picture.)

The dedication of the Cathedral at Chartres to Our Lady predates the trend of Marian devotion that started in the 12th century. As a result, when the king of France received a significant Marian relic, Chartres, as the nearest major church devoted to Mary, became the beneficiary of the Sancta Camisa, which is alternately described as having been the garment that Mary wore at the time of the Annunciation or at the time of the Birth of Jesus. When the reliquary was opened, though, it was found to be a length of silk that reportedly does indeed date back 2000 years.

The presence of the Sancta Camisa made Chartres a major pilgrimage center. Conveniently enough, it was also on one of the major routes to Compostella, another favorite destination for pilgrims. And so, in the pavement around Chartres, you can find these reminders of the past: mosaics of pilgrims and the shell of St. James, the patron of Compostella.

I didn’t have much opportunity to explore the rest of Chartres. Like most French cities, though, it does have its war memorial:

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