In addition to enjoying rich cafés, fresh local cuisine, regional wine and chévre cheese, we set out to experience the home to some of the world’s greatest architecture… the Loire Valley. This fertile terrain is rich in scenic antiquity and France’s aristocratic past. Abundant with historical fortresses, chateaux and churches, high on my list of places to visit was the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Chartres Cathedral.

Floor Plan

This pristine example of Gothic is actually a composite of many different periods. The majority of the structure is exceptionally well-preserved from the early 13th century and maintains nearly all of the medieval stained glass and sculptural portals from this time. The lower parts of the west front and the south spire are the earliest examples of Gothic anywhere, dating back to the 12th century, with hints of Romanesque roots. The unique entrance facade is dominated by its contrasting spires, the original plain hexagonal pyramid and the opulently reconstructed opposing one dating back to the early 16th century Flamboyant period.

Flamboyant Gothic spire c.1507 (left); Early Gothic spire c.1140 (right)
The rose window and spires from below at the entrance
The flying butresses support and stabilize the high vaults
Outside the choir aisle, the verticality and open structure project magestic grace while its mass gives a sense of stability and strength
South Elevation

…the most compelling expressions of the strength and the poetry of medieval Catholicism. A lightening and clarification of the wall structure was effected at Chartres by the dramatic abolition of the tribune galleries, thus reducing the internal elevation to three storeys only: a high arcade, low triforium passage, and clerestorey windows expanded so as to equal the arcade in height.

~David Watkin, A History of Western Architecture
Interior “watercolor” images of the nave piers rising up to quadripartite ribbed vaults, leading to the altar

Like so many who make the journey throughout the year, we were privileged to be in Chartres to visit this world-famous cathedral, arriving in time for mass. As it happened, this was a special Sunday and the building was filling with a pilgrimage of youth scouts from all around France. Services began and our senses were enveloped with the youthful sound of French psalms. The acoustics in this building were phenomenally awe-inspiring and ethereal, allowing us to truly sense the presence of centuries-old spirits.

“Watercolor” of Notre Dame de Pilar (16th c.) found in the north ambulatory

The experience I had at Notre Dame de Chartres will always hold a special place with me. It was the perfect place to begin our historical journey through the Loire Valley.

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