Chartres Cathedral visitor guide

Photo of Chartres Cathedral

Visit Chartres Cathedral, France

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The town of Chartres is about 100 kilometres 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 Chartres.

Exploring Chartres cathedral

The cathedral at Chartres, built from 1194-1260, is one of the finest examples of gothic architecture in the world and perhaps the most famous of the cathedrals in France, 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.

From the outset it was intended that Chartres cathedral should be one one of the finest churches in the Christian world, in part because of a miracle that took place here: a sacred relic in the church had survived the fire, which was taken as a sign that the virgin Mary herself had intervened during the fire to save the relic.

The cathedral was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. The towers are also listed as a French National Monument.

Chartres cathedral exterior

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. The entire cathedral was completed about forty years later.

Approaching the cathedral from the outside, you will first see the decorative carved entrance with a large 'rose' window 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 relieves 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:

  • the main decorative higlights in the west facade, a remnant from the earlier cathedral, 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,
  • the south facade at Chartres cathedral relates stories from the time between Christs's death and the Second Coming.

Chartres cathedral interior

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.

The cathedral contains the largest collection of medieval glass in the world and relate nearly 13000 scenes.

Chartres cathedral

The decorative stonework of Chartres cathedral also continues inside, while the decoratively carved wooden screen around the choir is another notable highlight: it is an extraordinary work, carved in the 16th century and including about 200 individual statues!

A big draw for many visitors to the cathedral is the labyrinth inside the cathedral which was added in 1200 following the great fire of Chartres. Walking the labyrinth symbolises the walk towards Christ and many come to do it.

The Romanesque crypt of the cathedral is the longest in Europe and contains some original frescoes and contemporary glass ware. It is accessed from the South door.

Attractions nearby

The town of Chartres is also interesting to visit while you are here: see the Chartres guide for details.

You can find more travel ideas in the Eure-et-Loir guide and the Loire Valley guide.

See also Find Chartres Cathedral hotels

Photos of Chartres Cathedral

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  • labyrinthe
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The French version of this page is at Chartres Cathedral (Francais)