may have been thought about before they discovered construction methods to
build such a magnificent house of worship but they learned along the way. It
took longer than expected and what stands today is a World Heritage Site
It is the largest major gothic cathedral
in France and only 80 kilometers from Paris, if not the most interesting. It
started as a dream replacement of what had been there and it went on to
become what many thought would be an impossible engineering challenge. What
followed was violence, greed, disaster, and competitive double-dealing. What
remained is one of the most fascinating true ‘Bible of Stone’.
Many people note that the two spires are
of different design. The taller one dates from the Flamboyant Gothic period
but the other simpler one survived from the older Romanesque period. This
feature alone makes the exterior unique.
It is rare to find someone not awed by
entering this vast space surrounded by one of the finest collections of
stained glass windows allowing for the light of God. To single out a few I
was taken with the colors and design of the circular South Rose Window that
depicts the Glorification of the Virgin. Another is the Tree of Jesse which
rises over one of the main doors and depicts Jesse, the father of David
rising to Christ at the top. Many biblical themes are also shown such as the
story of Noah on the top east side and Isaiah and Moses nearer the nave.
The color blue was not available
to the craftsmen at that time so they mixed colors and came up with
the beautiful Chartres Blue, unique to the Cathedral.
As you enter, you will see the
Gothic labyrinth in the floor. This is used as a penance for
pilgrims who followed the route of 851 feet on their knees. It was
only after an hour or so to reach the center that they could look up
and marvel at the high ceilings and bright light.
Necessity is the mother of invention and
when the builders looked for a way to lift heavy parts of the great ceiling,
they found the answer in the military catapults used as a weapon of war.
The new device allowed for the stones and other materials to be hauled over
the high walls. The energy to drive it by turning a wheel was a dangerous
occupation and many slipped to a horrific death when the catapult wheel
Another ingenious way to complete their
task was to cut the stones and shape them in the quarry which luckily was
nearby. It was easier to transport these carved stones than to fashion them
Making the archways with a pointed top
made them stronger than the old round archway. The weight would be better
There were workmen from all regions and
from all skills but they were helped by the local population. The guild
members tried to maintain their secrets. Among the artisans, the stone
carvers were the highest paid and the most respected. One look at their
incredible work will answer why. Water mixed with the correct amount of lime
was necessary for fastening some pieces to others.
After a while the lack of money hindered
the progress but the taxes were raised which caused the people to lose
patience. By 1210 it let to violence with the Countess of Blois opposing the
Bishops. There were kidnappings, demonstrations and fire. The 116 foot walls
were finally finished and using an umbrella like wooden frames. The walls,
however, were still fragile and required strength so they would not balloon
outward from the weight and gravity. The answer came with the use of Gothic
flying buttresses that were on the outside so as not to reduce the inner
space. Add stained glass and the cathedral was aglow. It was completed in
1256 and inaugurated in 1260 when the King of France, Louis IX led a long
procession through the city. Pilgrims started arriving from all over Europe.
One can imagine the awe they felt as
they approached Chartres with its cathedral seen miles away.
tours to the area always brought expressions of wonder both at the size and
the magnificence of the inside.
Few conflicts hampered the tranquility
of Chartres . It was not damaged by religious wars or the French
Revolution. What became known as ‘the Bible of Stone ‘still stands.
There was little damage of the windows
during WWII but they were dismantled, restored and releaded. They cover a
surface of over 26,900 square feet. What you see now is what was once only a
dream. Even the original crypt is there for you to see
When you arrive you can arrange for an
English tour which I heartily recommended.
Not only had the craftsmen built a
monument to wonder but they discovered new architectural methods that were
used over and over again throughout Europe.
Phone: 37 21 75 02. Open daily from 7:30
(9:15 0n weekends.
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)