Chartres is found about 100 km south west of Paris. It is the cathedral for which it the town is famous the world over, and the spires of the cathedral dominate the landscape for miles around the Chatres.
The cathedral at Chartres, built from 1194-1260, is one of the finest examples of gothic architecture in the world and is now a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site.
Several other churches and an earlier cathedral had already stood in the same location when work on the current cathedral started, including an impressive roman style cathedral which stood for almost 200 years until it was destroyed by fire in 1194. A small part of this earlier cathedral remained, predominantly the crypt and the west towers.
From the outset it was intended that Chartres cathedral be one one of the finest in the Christian world, in part because of the miracle that a sacred relic in the church had survived the fire - taken as a sign that the virgin Mary herself had intervened during the fire to save the relic.
Using the attractive local white stone for the building, the main body of the new cathedral was completed in about 25 years and incorporates the original crypt from the earlier cathedral, although the cathedral was not to be finally completed for another forty years.
Approaching the cathedral from the outside, you will first see the decorative carved entrance with a large 'rose' indow above that stands between the two towers of the west facade. The north and south facades are also very impressive, and you will see the substantial flying buttresses around the outside of the cathedral body - a characteristic of gothic churches, flying buttresses were used to add the strength to a church that enabled it to be built much higher than earlier cathedrals.
As a side effect this arrangement also reieves the cathedral walls of much of their support function, allowing large stained glass windows to be added.
There are many decorative features, predominantly statues and stone carvings, to be enjoyed around the cathedral, predominantly on the west, north transept and south transept facades.
West facade: the main decorative higlights in this remnant from the earlier acthedral are in the stonework above the three entrance doors, and relate different aspects from the life of Christ. Note that the statues of the 13th century Kings and Queens are below those taken from the life of Christ - signifying the important position of the Kings and Queens of the epoch. The north facade focusses on episodes from the Old Testament, while the south facade at Chartres cathedral relates stories from the time between Christs's death and the Second Coming.
Inside Chartres cathedral, the substantial east-west nave is about 130 metres long and 36 metres high, with the long central nave having short transepts, giving rise to the overall cruciform shape. Around the choir end of the chapel there are three main chapels and also several smaller chapels (the Chapel of Saint Piat was added later), with a substantial dome also at this end of the cathedral body.
It is the large number of stained glass windows that will next capture your attention, with many of the windows being those that were part of the original 13th century construction - remarkably having survived the rigours of the Wars of Religion, the French revolution and the second World War (although some were lost in the 18th century during modernisation works at Chartres cathedral).
Inside the decorative stonework of the cathedral continues, while the decoratively carved wooden screen around the choir is another notable highlight.
The cathedral was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. The towers are also listed as a French National Monument.
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Address: Chartres, Eure-et-Loir, Loire Valley, 28000, France || GPS: latitude 48.444, longitude 1.4841
Regular market(s) are held in Chartres Cathedral each Saturday. (Markets are held in the morning unless stated.)