Cathedrale de Chartres

The cathedral

    The Cathedrale de Chartres is the best-preserved medieval church in Europe, having miraculously escaped major damage during the Revolution and WWII. A patchwork masterpiece of Romanesque and Gothic design, the cathedral was constructed by generations of unknown masons, architects and artisans. Its grand scale dominates the town, with spires visible from most locations, and its history is strongly bound to that of France - it was here, for exemple, that Henri IV was coronated in 1594. If you approach from the place de la Cathedrale, you'll be able to see the discrepancy between the two towers, the one on the left, finished in 1513, is flamboyantly Gothic, the one on the right, built just before an 1194 fire, is sedately Romanesque and octogonal (the tallest in its style still standing). The 12th century statues of the Portale Royale present an assembly of Old Testament figures. The 13th century Porche du Nord depicts the life of Mary, while the Porches du Sud depicts the life of the Christ.

Sancta Camisia

    The year after he became emperor in 875, Charlemagne's grandson, Charles the Bald, donated to Chartres the Sancta camisa, the cloth believed to be worn by the virgin Mary when she gave birth to Christ. Although a church dedicated to Mary had existed on the site as early as the mid-700s, the emperor's bequest required a new cathedral to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims. In the hope that the sacred relic would heal and answer prayers, thousands flocked to the church on their knees. The sick were nursed in the crypt below the sanctuary. The powers of the relic were confirmed in AD 911 when the cloth saved the city, under attack from invading goths and Vikings, the Viking leader Rollon converted to Christianity, becoming the first Duke of Normandy. Today the relic is preserved behind glass and is on display in the back, left-hand side of the church.

Stained Glass

chartres cathedral
At a time when books were rare and the vast majority of people illiterate, the cathedral served as a multimedia teaching tool. Most of the stained glass dates from the 13th century and was preserved through both World Wars by heroic town authorities, who dismantled over 2000 square meters
and stored the windows pane by pane in Dordogne. The famous Blue Virgin, Tree of Jesse, and Passion and Resurrection of Christ, window are among the surviving 13th century stained glass. The medieval merchants who paid for the windows are shown in the lower panels., which provide a record of daily life in the 13th century. The windows are characterized by the stunning blue color, known as Chartres Blue. The center window shows the story of Christ from the Annunciation to the ride into Jerusalem. Binoculars are useful for viewing the high windows. Stories read from bottom to top, left to right.


    The windows of Chartres often distract visitors from a treasure below their feet : a winding labyrinth pattern that is carved in the the floor in the rear of the nave. Designed in the 13th century, the labyrinth was laid out for pilgrims as a substitute for a journey to the Holy land. By following this symbolic journey on their hands and knees, the devout would act out a voyage to heavenly Jerusalem.
chartres labyrinth

Tour Jean-de-Beauce

    The adventurous, the athletic, and the non-claustrophobic can climb to the cathedral's narrow-staircased north tower., Tour Jean-de-Beauce (named after its architect) for a stellar view of the cathedral roof, the flying buttresses, and the city below. If you don't make it all the way to the top, the first viewing platform offers a slightly obstructed but nonetheless impressive sight.


Parts of Chartres's crypt, including a well down which Vikings tossed the bodies of their victims during raids, date back to the 9th century. Visitors may enter the 110m long subterranean crypt only as part of a tour that leaves from la Crypte, the store opposite the cathedral's south entrance. The tour is in french, but information sheets are available in english.

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