Learn About Visiting Chartres Cathedral in France

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, also known as Chartres Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic church and the seat of the Bishop of Chartres. It is in Chartres, France, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Paris. It stands where at least five cathedrals have stood since the Diocese of Chartres was established as an episcopal see in the 4th century and was primarily built between 1194 and 1220. It is Romanesque and High Gothic in design. The cathedral was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979, which referred to it as a Masterpiece and the pinnacle of French Gothic architecture.

Most of the original stained-glass windows are still in place, and the cathedral has undergone only minor restoration and preservation work since the early 13th century. The west end of the structure is dominated by two striking spires: a 113-meter early 16th-century Flamboyant spire on top of an older tower, and a 105-meter plain pyramid completed around 1160. The exterior of the building is dominated by heavy flying buttresses, which allowed the architects to significantly increase the window size. The three enormous façades, which each feature hundreds of sculpted figures illuminating important theological themes and stories, are also noteworthy.

The cathedral has been a popular travel destination since at least the 12th century. It continues to be so today, drawing a sizable number of secular tourists who come to admire the cathedral’s architecture and historical significance, as well as a sizable number of Christian pilgrims who come to venerate its famous relic, the Sancta Camisa, which is said to be the tunic worn by the Virgin Mary at the birth of Christ.

On May 31, 1855, Pope Pius IX pontifically crowned the revered Black Madonna housed there.

How to Reach the Chartres Cathedral?

There are frequent trains from Paris to Chartres that take about an hour, and the cathedral is only a short distance from the station in that city. You must determine which of the five main train stations in Paris, one for each of the four cardinal directions and one at Charles de Gaulle Airport offers service to Chartres. Our observations show that they all depart from and arrive back at Montparnasse Station. From the train station, a short distance leads to the Cathedral. Also, know more fun things to do while waiting for your flight.

History

The Gothic Chartres Cathedral, also known as Notre-Dame d’Chartres or the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, is a landmark in the northwest French town of Chartres. One of the three primary examples of Gothic French architecture, it is renowned for its innovative architectural design as well as its numerous sculptures and highly regarded stained glass. In the Middle Ages, pilgrims traveled to the cathedral because of its connection to the Virgin Mary, many of whom were sick people looking for a cure. In the twenty-first century, Roman Catholics still travel there on pilgrimage.

The Cathedral’s crypt and west portal, also known as the Royal Portal, which are the remains of a Romanesque church that was largely destroyed by fire in 1194, are its two oldest structures. On the remains of the earlier church, the current cathedral was built and dedicated in 1260. It is 427 feet long, stands 112 feet tall, and is constructed of limestone. The cathedral’s architecture shares many similarities with its contemporaries, particularly Laon Cathedral, but it also exhibits innovations with its tall arcades, unusually narrow triforium, and enormous clerestory, whose enormous weight necessitated the use of flying buttresses in an unheard-of manner.

A staggering amount of sculptures, especially figures sculpture, including everything from large column statues to miniatures, can be found inside the cathedral. The sculptures primarily feature scenes and characters from the Old and New Testaments because their primary function was to preach and instruct. Even more expressive sculptures can be found in the south transept, which was built after 1194. Saint statues that adorn the right doorway’s jambs each have distinctive facial features and occasionally interact with one another. Notably, Saint Theodore is more fully rounded, almost removed from the architecture, and more dynamic, with swaying hips and shoulders that evoke the contrapposto pose that ancient Greek sculptors had mastered.

The characteristic that makes Chartres Cathedral possibly most well-known is its 176 stained-glass windows. The stained glass was meant to be educational, just like the sculpture. The Virgin Mary is represented in various ways in each of the choir hemicycle’s five windows. Old Testament characters are portrayed in the rose window in the north transept. The Apocalypse is depicted in a rose window in the south transept, which stands for the New Testament.

Chartres Cathedral Changes

The cathedral has undergone numerous changes. For instance, the distinctive spire on the northwest tower was added in the early 1500s. The political and religious turmoil of the 16th century left relatively little damage in its wake, and during the French Revolution, Chartres suffered less damage than most cathedrals. A series of repairs were made during the 19th century after a fire damaged the roof in 1836. The Chartres Cathedral received the UNESCO World Heritage designation in 1979 and is one of the most fascinating castles around the world. The cathedral’s interior underwent a contentious cleaning and restoration in the early 21st century. In the late 20th century, preservation efforts focused on preventing stained glass from being damaged by air pollution.

The Angels and Monsters Sculpture

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While most of the sculpture in the cathedral was of saints, apostles, and other Biblical characters, such as the angel holding a sundial on the south facade, other sculpture in Chartres was intended to serve as a warning to the faithful. Statues of various monsters and demons are among these creations. Gargoyles, for example, were some of these figures that also served a practical purpose by acting as rain spouts to direct water far from the walls. Others, such as the chimera and the Strix, were created to illustrate what happens when people disobey biblical teachings.

The Sculpture of the Known Portals

The cathedral has three large entrances or portals that open into the transepts from the north and south and the nave from the west. Richly decorated with sculptures, the portals made biblical stories and theological concepts visible to both educated clergy and laypeople who might not have had access to text-based education. On the west facade, there are three portals that each highlight a different aspect of Christ’s role in the world: the right portal highlights his earthly Incarnation, the left one his Ascension, or his existence before his Incarnation, and the center portal highlights his Second Coming, which ushers at the End of Time. One of the best examples of Gothic sculpture still in existence is the statuary on the Chartres portals.