Located less than 100 kilometres outside of Paris, Chartres Cathedral is a working building and place of worship. The nave is the widest in France. The cathedral is a monument of medieval art, known for its chancel screen and original stained glass. The popular tourist destination has two towers:
- Clocher Neuf (North Tower)
- Clocher Vieux (South Tower)
The Gothic Cathedral
The cathedral was finally dedicated in the presence of Louis IX of France and his family on 24 October 1260. Its three storey elevation and rectangular quadripartite bay, is an example of the High Gothic style. The rebuildings of Chartres Cathedral, particularly the reconstruction of the facade after 1134, provided the occasion for popular participation in virtually a civic enterprise. In a famous letter from Abbot Haimon of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives in Normandy to the monks of Tutbury in England, he recounted:
"...Who has ever seen! Who has ever heard tell in times past, that powerful princes of the world, that men brought up in honor and in wealth, that nobles, men and women, have bent their haughty necks to the harness of carts, and that, like beasts of burden, they have dragged to the abode of Christ these waggons, loaded with wines and grains, oil, stones, wood and all that is necessary for the wants of life or for the construction of the church? But while they drew these burdens, there is one thing admirable to observe; it is that often when a thousand persons and more are attached to the chariots - so great is the difficulty - yet they march in such silence that not a murmur is heard, and truly if one did not see such a thing with one's eyes, one might believe that among such a multitude there was hardly a person present. When they halt on the road, nothing is heard but the confession of sins and pure and suppliant prayer to God to obtain pardon. At the voice of the priests who exhort their hearts to peace, they forget all hatred, discord is thrown far aside, debts are remitted, the unity of hearts is established.... After the people, warned by the sound of trumpets and the sight of banners have resumed their road, the march is made with such ease that no obstacle can retard it."
Medieval Stained Glass
The colour name Chartres blue (which the Gothic Revival architect Violet-le-Duc compared to the blue of the autumn sky) is from light filtered through the medieval stained glass in the cathedral. The cathedral was originally fitted with 186 windows, of which 152 that have survived. It was spared in both wars because of a decision to remove it piece by piece.
- Rose de France. The north rose and its five lancet windows were a gift from Queen Blanche of Castille, the Queen of France, in 1230.
- The rose window shows Mary surrounded by angels and doves, the kings of Judea, and prophets. Below the rose window, five lancet windows display Mary's mother, St. Anne holding her child, and four kings and high priests of the Old Testament (David and Solomon on the left; Melchizedek and Aaron on the right).
- The whole composition is combined with numerous smaller windows containing yellow fleur-de-lis on blue backgrounds (the arms of the French royal family), and a golden castle on red ground for the arms of the family of Blanche of Castille.
- South Rose. The window was donated by Pierre Mauclerc, son of Robert II, comte de Dreux.
- Vie de Noé. The animals enter the arc:
- Of the paired 13th century windows of the south choir aisle, a left hand light illustrates the signs of the Zodiac and labours of the months. The quatrefoils in the middle show:
- May - Gemini
- June - Leo
- October - Scorpio
- New Year - Aquarius
- The right lancet below the rose window is filled with glass illustrating the Tree of Jesse. This is the genealogical tree envisioned by Isiah (11:1): "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his root."
- Enfance et vie publique du Christ.
- Passion du Christ.
The chancel screen includes, on the south side, an astrological clock dating from the 16th century. It told not only the time but the day of the week, the month of the year, the time of sunrise and sunset, the phase of the moon and the current sign of the Zodiac.
- West Facade - Royal Portals. The western portals at Chartres all open into the nave.
- Left Portal
- The archivolts of the north door in the west portal have:
- Signs of the Zodiac; labours of the month.
- Separation of light and darkness, creation of the sun and moon; creation of birds, fish and land animals.
- Old Testament antecedents.
- Seven liberal arts and their practitioners.
- Left Portal
- "Saint Theodore", a military saint who lived in Roman times, or possibly Roland is depicted in contemporary 13th century chain mail; He is dressed as a Christian knight, and is the personification of a youthful chivalric ideal.
- 1793 - Inner works of astrological clock were partially destroyed.
- 4 June 1836 - A fire destroyed the whole roof of the cathedral,
taking with it the charpente of the south tower as well.