Like many people who travel to the south of France from the north, we had, before moving here, skirted Paris and took the ring road around Chartres, heading south. Here you’ll find the Cathedral of Chartres, also known as the Cathedral of our Lady of Chartres. Loving mysteries I knew it had a famous labyrinth and having relatives in Sussex, southern England, I knew it was twinned with Chichester Cathedral but that was all.
From the ring road, even at a distance the twin spires are a majestic sight and Chartres was much bigger than I had imagined. There was underground parking very near the Cathedral; however I must say it was not overly wheelchair friendly as my husband is disabled and the tiny lift only goes to the first floor which means a steep climb upwards. However, once out in the sunshine it was only a short walk through the charming old streets with their quaint shops and on to our destination.
Our first complete view of Chartres Cathedral was striking. It is a fine example of gothic architecture, with magnificent flying buttresses and lovely gardens in front of its impressive west facade or Portail Royal. There was a ramp for easy wheelchair access and as we entered, we were immediately impressed by the 176 amazing 12th and 13th century stained glass windows, including the western rose, which depicts the Last Judgement, the north rose which is dedicated to the Virgin, and the southern rose, which is dedicated to Christ. With clever foresight the beautiful stained glass windows had been removed for protection in 1939 before Germany invaded France, then cleaned and re-leaded before being replaced after WWII.
In the centre of the widest nave in France is the famous labyrinth (maze) which is 320 yards (290 meters) long and is the only one surviving in France. I had wanted to see the labyrinth since I had read a story called The Rose Labyrinth, in which it is featured. Unfortunately, it was covered in chairs on the day of our visit but we could still see it, I have since learnt that it is uncovered on Fridays.
The monumental screen, depicting various religious scenes carved from stone, which surrounds the choir is quite beautiful and adorning the altar is a magnificent marble statue of The Assumption.
Leaving through the main entrance, we ordered coffee and I popped back to the car for our Border Collie Toby. Sitting outside the tearoom in the sunshine, we thoroughly enjoyed our grande crème whilst admiring the incredibly beautiful carved stonework on the south facade.
Of course, we had to do a little shopping in the gift shops, where we discovered a postcard with an amazing mosaic house, another must visit place in Chartres, La Maison Picassiette. We leisurely wandered back through the streets to the car park, stopping for an ice-cream on the way and only then discovered that La Maison Picassiette was in fact on the other side of Chartres and closing in 15 minutes. Oh well, we will just have to go back another time…
Visit the Cathedral of Chartres website for more information
See some wonderful photographs on the UNESCO World Heritage website
By Susan Keefe