Thursday, 14 May 2015

Cathedrale Notre Dame de Chartres

The Cathedral at Chartres has been drawing pilgrims for over eight centuries the view the sacred relic, Veil of the Virgin. Located about 80 kilometres southwest of Paris, the current Cathedral was built in only 25 years, when the original cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1194, and has a style and beauty that few others possess. Because of the short building time, as many cathedrals of the Gothic age could take over 100 years to complete, the Chartres Cathedral only had one master craftsman per workshop. This allowed the cathedral to be a single harmonious vision rather then a mix of different styles and ideas. The only slight differences are that on the western fa├žade. The Royal Portal as well as the southern spire, on the right, date from before the fire of 1194, from around 1145, while the northern spire, on the left, dates from the 16th century when the original was damaged by lightning and is designed in a more flamboyant style then that of the older one.

What makes the Chartres Cathedral so remarkable is its most notable characteristic; the stain glass windows. There are over 150 windows covering a surface area of over 3000 sq m (26,900 sq ft) and depict biblical stories and daily life of the 13th century.

The Chartres Cathedral was designed and created to showcase these incredible stained glass windows. The use of flying buttresses permitted architects for the first time to raise the heights of the cathedral walls over 3 stories high, allowed for thinner walls, and to significantly increase the windows size both vertically and horizontally, the result is a strong building that is filled with coloured light.

The stained-glass windows of Chartres recount the history of the world - from Creation to the Last Judgment - as it was understood in the Middle Ages. Most medieval worshippers could neither read nor write, but they could easily understand biblical "texts" told in stained glass. Each window is divided into panels, usually read from left to right, bottom to top; earth to heaven.

Donated by guilds between 1210 and 1240 the windows also provide a fascinating glimpse of everyday life as the panels can be described as "commercials" for the donors. The Noah window, for example, was paid for by the carpenters, wheelwrights and coopers, so panels at the base show them at their crafts. Other guilds appearing at their trade include apothecaries, fishmongers and butchers, and shoemakers are even shown offering a stained-glass window to the cathedral.

During both World Wars these windows were dismantled piece by piece for safety purposes and in the 1970’s underwent some restoration work. The result is a Gothic Cathedral of unspeakable glory, as the light and colour of the glass creates a sight that is truly inspiring.

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