On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions. From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
This series was created by Alain Chamot (1971-2020).
In April 2015, my son and I went to Paris to visit my daughter, who’d recently moved there. She was busy one cool rainy weekday, so he and I took the train to Chartres, about 60 miles southwest of Paris. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres was built between 1020-1220 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It may be best known for its two very different spires. Its numbers are awesome — 142 yards long (almost 1.5 football fields), about 83,000 square feet of interior floor space, 176 stained-glass windows (28,000 square feet), and 3,500 statues. The vaulted ceiling in the nave rises 123 feet, about 11 stories high. The cathedral was undergoing a years-long cleaning/restoration and some sections were closed off. There were few visitors that day so my son took up with one of the guards who gave us a personal tour. These are my son’s pictures as my small camera was no match for his Nikon.
The cathedral from the train station … the smaller spire is a 349-foot-tall, plain pyramid, completed around 1160. The second spire is 377 feet, built in the early 16th century. Called a Flamboyant spire (a late-Gothic style), it was built on top of an older tower. In 1836, a fire destroyed the roof’s wooden interior framing. That was replaced by a cast-iron structure; the roof was covered in copper plates which are now green. There are many terrific exterior images of the cathedral online, taken on sunny days, that show the immense size of the cathedral and how it’s located within the town itself. (google Chartres Cathedral and click on images).
The west portal, or Portail royal, is the main entrance to the cathedral. It is one of the few sections of the building to survive the 1194 fire. The Portal depicts Christ’s life and ministry, up to the Second Coming. Visitors enter through either of the side doors, from the large square. The center door is only opened for processions during major festivals.
During the French Revolution (1789-1799), many churches and cathedrals were vandalized. Their gold, silver, and jeweled items were taken, and the buildings turned into secular institutions. Many exterior statues were damaged when heads and hands were chopped off or broken. Chartres’ religious objects were plundered and its lead roof melted down to make cannons and musket balls. But the majority of its statues remained intact, except for …
… these holy persons (and a few others).
The South Transcept was added in the 13th century and portrays events after Christ’s crucifixion and the time of the early Christian martyrs.
Detail from the South Transcept. You can easily see the centuries of dirt and soot on the stone and statues.
The Chevet is the eastern end of the cathedral. It features the double flying buttresses (visible at the top of the picture) that made it possible to install the huge stained glass windows. If you want to get into the weedy details about all the geometry and math needed to plan and build a Gothic cathedral like Chartres, check https://chartrescathedralconceptualplan.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/chartres-cathedral-analysis-of-the-floor-plan/ … Then imagine doing all that with no machinery, cranes, or calculators.
The outdoor labyrinth in the Jardin de l’Évêché, or Bishop’s Garden, adjacent to the cathedral. We weren’t able to photograph the more elaborate interior labyrinth, laid out in the early 1200s, which stretches 42 feet across in the nave (again Google is your friend here). Usually covered with chairs, the indoor labyrinth is uncovered every Friday from Lent to Nov. 1. No pictures are allowed when pilgrims are walking the labyrinth. There was a brass or copper plaque at the center but it was removed in 1792 to be melted down to make cannons for the new Army of the Revolution. The rivets in the floor are still there.
The town of Chartres, from the Jardin de l’Évêché.