I just booked a day tour to Chartres for some clients doing a tour to Paris with a huge tour company. Since their other tour didn't include Chartres and because they had a free day and like so many, had absolutely dreamed of visiting Chartres, we arranged this tour for them for July 8th. They're thrilled and who wouldn't be? In fact, Chartres should be included on any trip to France.
The town of Chartres is a medieval town only an hour southwest of Paris and whether you take one of the many daily trains there or book a tour (group or private), you won't be disappointed. Approaching it by train or car, I'm always amazed at the flat countryside and fields of crops or (if you're lucky!) sunflowers aplenty. Suddenly and as if out of nowhere, the Cathedral appears in the distance and there's no doubt it is ahead. It's like a beacon of history signaling you're on the right road. It truly is like Ken Follett entitled one of his great books, "Pillars of the Earth".
The medieval Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres is a Catholic cathedral located in Chartres, about 50 miles southwest of Paris. It is considered one of the finest examples of the French High Gothic style. The current cathedral was constructed between 1193 and 1250 and is one of at least five that have occupied the site since the town became a bishopric (a diocese of a bishop) in the 4th century.
The cathedral is very special from an art history point of view and is exceptionally well preserved. Most of the original stained glass windows are intact today. With its 200 stained glass windows dating back to the 12th and 13th Centuries (now that's old!), they're amazingly perfect. The rose window, in particular, above the entrance to the cathedral, is world famous and will take your breath away.
The architecture of Chartres Cathedral has seen only minor changes since the early 13th century. The building's exterior is dominated by heavy flying buttresses that allowed the architects to increase the window size significantly, a concerpt which wouldn't have been possible before flying buttresses. The west end of the exterior is dominated by two contrasting spires — one is a 105 metre (349 ft) plain pyramid from the year 1140, and the other was built in the early 16th century and is a 113 metre (377 ft) tall with a Flamboyant spire on top of an older tower. There are also three great facades, each adorned with hundreds of sculpted figures giving iconic themes and narratives. In this way, the early visitors to Chartres Cathedral (as with other cathedrals built during those periods) were sort of reading their cathedral as they absorbed the messages in the sculpted figures and stained glass. It's an immense and impressive architectural wonder, so do add it to your travel plans. The historian Henry Adams spoke of the cathedral writing, "Chartres expressed an emotion, the deepest man ever felt, the struggle of his own littleness to grasp the infinite".
It surely has survived centuries of wear and war. Though damaged during the French Revolution, it was not destroyed, though there was so much country-wide anti-religious sentiment. Then during WWII, prior to the German invasion of France, all the stained glass was removed from the cathedral. At one point, it was thought that the Germans were occupying the cathedral and the destruction was ordered. However, Colonel Welborn Barton Griffith, Jr. actually took it upon himself to see if, in fact, the Germans were there or not. The American colonel's excellent reconnaissance proved that there were no enemy troops in the cathedral and its destruction was spared. Thank you, Colonel Griffith. We all thank you.
Since at least the 12th century the cathedral has been an important destination for travellers - and remains so to this day, attracting large numbers of Christian pilgrims, many of whom come to see its famous relic, the Sancta Camisa, said to be the tunic worn by the Virgin Mary at Christ's birth, as well as large numbers of secular tourists who come to see this Unesco World Heritage Site.
We hope you get a chance to visit Chartres and see the village and cathedral for yourself. Check out our Chatres tours. You will be amazed.