Sometimes you can get a welcoming feeling from the moment you enter a place. Once we found our way out of the train station in Chartres, that’s just how we felt. A free shuttle took us to the walking district where we found our B& B… L’Escale en coleur.
Carol, the owner greeted us and we felt right at home. She suggested a small spot for lunch, Chez Gaël, and little did we know the introduction to Gaël would play a role later that day.
Chartres is a pedestrian-friendly town, with much of the central area designated as walking area. We browsed the streets and made our way to the magnificent Chartres Cathedral.
I’m curious about these wonderful plants we saw in the small gardens in front of the west entrance. Can any friendly gardeners help me out??
Words can’t describe the magnificence and astounding history of this cathedral. We hired Anne Marie, the English-speaking guide from Chicago, and for 2 hours she wove stories of the ancient beginnings as early as 100-300 AD to the current restoration.
Because we were on a tour and because no baptism, funeral, or pilgrimage was happening today, we were able to visit the crypt . Now I always thought a crypt indicated graves. However, that is not accurate. A crypt indicates an underground chamber with no windows. The crypt at Chartres is very much alive, with no graves, and through the years windows have been added. The crypt is better known as the underground chamber and it’s used for many services.
In 876 the cathedral received a gift from Charlemagne’s Grandson, the veil purported to have belonged to Mary when she gave birth to Jesus. During the French Revolution the veil was torn into pieces, and the photo above shows a small bit that currently resides in the crypt. A larger section of it is housed in a side chapel in the main cathedral.
As we questioned Anne Marie about its authenticity, she said that scientists have done studies and dated it back to 100 to 200 A.D., and the thought is this,” if it didn’t belong to Mary, it probably belonged to one of her girlfriends!” As we learned before in other tours, it is very difficult to really authenticate religious relics.
The stained glass windows at Chartres tell biblical stories as do others of Medeival times. This particular one that shows the Madonna and Child, is one of the original pieces and this is held as the standard Chartres blue. We learned that most of the stained-glass windows show the “signature” of the guild who sponsored it, perhaps weavers or stonemasons or money changers. There is one interesting window that tells the story of the prodigal son, but does not have a “signature.” If you think about the story of the prodigal son and know that he spent his money on wine, women, and song, until he had nothing left, even the clothes on his back, it may be given to give you a clue as to what group might have sponsored the window! This group also asked to have a window installed in Notre Dame in Paris but was denied. Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, the window of the prodigal son is directly above the confessional.
Anne Marie was excited to see that the scaffolding had recently been removed from a section of the choir screen. it’s easy to see the difference between the cleaned section and the dirty section. The dirt and grime is a result of the candles, oil heat, and human wear and tear. She told us the process for cleaning the sculptures and pillars throughout the cathedral involves small hand vacuums, toothbrushes, scrapers like the dentist uses, and interestingly for faces, a latex mask similar to the kind you get at the spa! When the mask is removed much of the dirt comes with it. A 30-year-old woman from California heads up the restoration team.Edit
I can’t remember much about the magnificent sculpture on the altar of the cathedral. Suffice to say, it’s beyond beautiful!!
So I’m going to stop for now, because we are actually in Paris and getting ready to go to Montmartre . More later.
But here’s why we’re taking it a bit easy this afternoon and I can catch up on some blog writing:
Yep… Missed a very small step coming out of the lunch restaurant today and went right down, twisting my ankle on the way. Totally stupid. Luckily I travel with an ankle brace, so with ibuprofen, ice, and the brace, I’ll be fine!!