I'm glad I brought my camera on my 60th birthday trip to France.
I first saw this cathedral in 1983. I keep returning. Why does it evoke such awe and reverence in me? I’m not any kind of a Christian.
The current church was built after a catastrophic fire in 1194. Alone among French cathedrals, the whole thing – including 10,000 statues - only took 25 years to build. No one knows the names of the master architect, or the master sculptors, let alone the hundreds of people who worked on it.
Chartres was the only French church to escape the Revolution and two World Wars almost intact, with even most of its stained glass windows unbroken. Some attribute that to the blessing of the virgin. The Santa Camisa – the tunic she wore during Christ’s birth – is enshrined here.
Some people believe the sacred nature of Chartres predates the current church, predates even Christianity. Like many European churches it was built on the site of a pagan worship place, in this case one that was dedicated to a spring. You can still see it in the crypt, guarded by a Black Virgin. Other people say the first worshipers at Chartres were Druids, that this site was their spiritual center, that they also worshipped a virgin who gave birth. This idea flows into the notion that the physical site of Chartres – its spring - possesses supernatural power, that other points on the earth are also powerful, and that they’re all connected by Ley lines, forming a humming network of alignments that gird the earth.
One who was sure he knew the secrets of Chartres was Louis Charpentier. In the “Mystery of Chartres” he makes his case for a network of ley lines. He measured angles and proportions in the church and compared them with similar measurements of the great pyramids. To me his fevered tone is a tip off – it smacks of the fanatic.
I’ve spent many days at Chartres. I’ve gotten goosebumps staring at the statues of ancient kings:
gaped at the flying buttresses:
been brought to tears by the rose window:
Ludwig Schneider / Wikimedia Commons.
But I can’t say I’ve ever felt myself transported to some other spiritual plane.
Still, I can thank Charpentier for one revelation. Without him I would never have noticed the little round hole halfway up towards the right side of this window:
or the steel pin set in the stone in the floor below:
It's a different shape and color than any other stone in the floor of the vast church.
As this clock strikes noon on the day of the spring equinox, without any help from Industrial Light and Magic, the sun bursts through the hole and sets this pin afire with light, the only time in the whole year the sun is high enough to do it. Now that’s awesome.
I have never seen it, but like to imagine hooded characters – perhaps descendents of druids - sneaking towards that spot among the throng of unsuspecting tourists, gathering, bowing their heads as spring announces itself.
Many find awe in the maze of Chartres. It’s interesting that if that rose window above fell on the floor, it would fall right on the maze:
The chairs are moved one day a month to uncover it, and we were lucky to be there on such a day with our young son. We walked the maze. On the way out of the church he pointed at a statue of Christ on the cross and asked in less than a whisper, “Who’s that weird guy?” I didn’t have an answer for him, still don’t.
(Next - Part II - Carnac)