Chartres Cathedral History

Chartres Cathedral
Photo by: Ireneed Creative Commons

The Cathedral of Chartres is a great example of Gothic architecture in the world today. It is located 80 kilometers from the city of Paris and is widely known for its delicate carvings and soaring aisles. When it is viewed from a distance, it appears to hover in air above wheat fields. When one moves closer to the structure, the city surrounding the structure becomes visible.

During its early days, particularly in the middle ages, the structure served as a church and school. This was because as it cheaper to use the same building than to construct a new one. The Cathedral is renowned for its unique role in the study of logic. Logic lessons taught here were considered by many to be ahead of those in Paris. Today, the Cathedral still remains the headquarters of the Diocese of Chartres in the province of Tours.

Its History

This cathedral acted as a landmark for the local people and visitors alike. All crucial services were centered around the church. Occasionally, in the course of the middle ages, the structure functioned as a marketplace. During this time the reigning priests were against the idea of the cathedral being utilized as a shopping mall. So much so, that they banned the selling of wine in it.

The cathedral was a primary assembly point for different kinds of people looking for jobs. It was also a place where pilgrims assembled for prayers and religious sermons. During certain times the cathedral’s crypt was used as a hospital to tend to the sick.

Since 876, the Chartres Cathedral has been used to house the tunic of the Virgin Mary, called the Sancta Camisia. The well-preserved relic was said to have been issued to the cathedral by Charlemagne, who received it as a gift during one of his many trips to the city of Jerusalem. Because of this special relic, the Cathedral is recognized as a crucial pilgrimage center and faithful from all over the world come to honor it.

The present structure is one of the few French historical masterpieces which were re-built due to a fire which destroyed most of Chartres in 1020. It survived another fire in 1134 which destroyed some of it notable structures such as the Fa├žade, the Crypt and the West Towers. The effects of the fire were significant and the church had to be reconstructed to restore its appearance.

Rebuilding the church started in 1194 and drew much attention from across the world. Friendly nations and committed pilgrims sent donations to aid in the completion of the project. Local people volunteered to carry the necessary materials from quarries located over five miles away.

The 1194 rebuilding plan utilized the plan drawn by the first architect in order to conserve the historical look and feel associated with it. By 1220, most of the work was complete. In 1260, the structure was officially dedicated in the patronage of King Louis IX.

The French Revolution

The structure suffered the effects of the French revolution when a group of people began to demolish a sculpture on the Northern porch. A revolutionary committee was set up to ensure protection for the cathedral and a local architect was hired to re-organize it. The architect’s work saved the building from the verge of collapse by as he had it repaired frequently.

World War II

WWII had a significant effect on France and the Cathedral of Chartres was not an exception. All its glass was destroyed in 1939 just a couple of months before the Germans seized most of France. The city experienced severe bombings in the course of the war and the cathedral faced a high risk of being destroyed. A onetime order to destroy the cathedral was challenged by American Colonel Welborn Barton Griffith who questioned the orders. He cited that the Germans were not using the cathedral to launch missiles targeted at French, British or U.S. forces.

After the allies liberated the city, the cathedral was salvaged and prompt construction work was done to replace some its missing parts.

The Interior

The Cathedral boasts a spacious interior which is about 36 meters in height. It also has clustered columns which rise dramatically from the bases to the high pointed arches of the roof. Its east wing is divided to depict a scene from the life and times of Jesus Christ. The south side is home to an impressive astrological clock that dates from the 1600’s.

The Exterior

Some of the most noticeable features on the cathedral’s exterior include a Latin cross, an ambulatory and a short transept. Its East wing has five semi circular chapels. The nave is supported by double flying buttresses supported by abutments and colonnettes. The abutments were slightly lightened and filled with sculptures. There is also an extra row which features single flying buttresses. Its west wing has large rose windows, three sculptured portals and flanking towers. In total, the structure has nine portals, three of which were salvaged from the initial building on the west end.

The history of the Chartres Cathedral spans several centuries and its role in world history remains important to date.

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