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Notre-Dame de Chartres

Notre Dame Cathedral of Chartres is one of the biggest Gothic cathedrals in Northern France that was dedicated to the worship of the Virgin Mary during the 12th and 13th centuries. Since 1979, it has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

 

Origins

Rising up from a promontory, a natural hill that dominates the Eure, on a 30-meter high cliff, the cathedral is part of the urban fabric of the old town. During the Early Middle Ages, at least five edifices would have followed, one after the other; all that remains of them are some wall sections and the place where one can find the Saint Lubin crypt, whose layout and orientation determined how the apse of the present-day structure was set up. The cathedral was ravaged by fire in 1020.

 

Fulbert’s Cathedral

Bishop Fulbert (1006-1028), one of the greatest intellectuals of his time, was responsible for the construction of the cathedral, which was dedicated in 1037; the crypt, the narthex with its three sculpted gates, and its two towers are what remain of it. The south steeple was erected at a later date. Fulbert’s Roman basilica will be destroyed in 1194; only the crypt and west façade will be spared.

The 13th-Century Cathedral

The 13th-century cathedral, which is the one that we are familiar with today, recaptures the west pillar of the old structure. It has a Latin cross plan, three-storey elevation, pointed-arch vaults with transverse ribs, and half ribs that determine the shape of the piles, all of which make it an example of early Gothic architecture. The nave’s pavement has been preserved. On the exterior, to balance the arches thrust, a system of thick buttresses and flying buttresses go up to the base of the roofs, in two superposed flights of decreasing thickness. The two lateral porches manifest exceptional sculpted décor.

The Stained Glass Windows

Notre-Dame de Chartres

The bays of Chartres Cathedral consist of the most complete grouping of old stained glass windows that have been preserved in France. “Notre-Dame de-la-Belle-Verrière” [Our Lady of the Beautiful Window] (added around 1180), and the west façade’s three lancets (added between 1145 and 1155) are the oldest windows and are vestiges of Fulbert’s cathedral. The majority of windows, which date from about 1205 through 1240, are still present in today’s church. The quickness with which the work was carried out explains, without a doubt, the exemplary homogeneity of the group.

13th- and 16th-century Extensions

The following centuries will see the building of extensions and specifically reflect the evolution of liturgical worship:

  • Sacristy built during the 13th century;
  • Capitular hall, surmounted by the Saint Piat Chapel (constructed between 1325 and 1335), connected to the cathedral by a tunnel staircase;
  • In 1417, Vendôme Chapel is built between two buttresses at the south aisle;
  • The north bell-tower, known as the “clocher Neuf [New Bell-Tower],” was the work of mason Jehan Texier, also known as Jehan de Beauce; it replaced a wooden belfry;
  • Clock pavilion, built by Jehan de Beauce in 1520, at the north side of the cathedral (decorated with Renaissance pilasters, while its spire is still Gothic).

A Copper Roof!

In 1836, an accidental fire destroys the old wooden tower. The roof is reconstructed using cast iron and a copper covering; today it remains one of Chartres Cathedral’s distinctive features.

 

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