Wednesday, September 18, 2013

September 5- Chartes, visual overload

We took the train to Chartes for the day.  First, a word about French trains.  They seem to be very prompt.  When the sign says, departure at 9:36, that is the time that the train leaves. Unlike at home, when the Amtrak listed departure time is merely a suggestion. 
The trains are very clean and well-maintained. We had second class tickets.  There is a glass door between class 1 and 2.  Class 1 also has a little table in front of each seat. There are restrooms throughout the train.
Upon our arrival in Chartes, we could see the cathedral with its twin spires. The cathedral is about a 5-minute walk from the station.  We made a note of a Boulanger close to the station which sold sandwiches to purchase for supper on our return trip.

Our first stop was the tourist information office- probably not necessary since we had ripped out the Chartes pages from 2 guide books.  The TI has a free map and souvenirs. Until this trip, I have always kept my guide books in pristine condition.  I’ve changed my mind- take out what I need and avoid carrying an extra pound of stuff around every day. (Thanks for that advice, Ken). 

On to the cathedral.  It reminded me of those long Victorian dresses- covered with lace, ruffles, buttons, more lace, more ruffles-  the dressmaker thought she needed to put every possible decoration in her drawer on the dress.  Chartes is covered with statues, flying buttresses, stained glass windows, more statues, more stained glass, etc.  I loved it. I think it is the most beautiful church I have ever seen (other than the small white Norwegian Lutheran church I grew up in).


I read that the church burned down in 1194.  It seems that after St. Denis, the first Gothic cathedral.  opened, many Romanesque churches burned. Speculation was that all the bishops wanted their own new Gothic designs. Chartes contained the veil worn by Mary at the birth of Christ.  After much fear that it had been lost, 3 days after the fire, it was “discovered” in the crypt.  People were eager to quickly build a new and better church to house this relic. Most of the cathedral was completed in 30 years, and it was completely finished in 60 years. In comparison, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. was started in 1907 and completed in 1990. 

Looking at the church now, I am dumb founded at how they managed to accomplish this task- design it, locate craftsmen to make windows, towers and statues, etc., and then actually complete the work so quickly.
The church is famous for its 172 stained glass windows, including 3 rose windows.  It is fun to look for the windows donated by the guilds which include a depiction of that guild- a shoemaker selling a pair of shoes, butchers, etc.   

There statues everywhere.

The outside of the building is covered with statues. My favorite was Abraham carrying Isaac towards his sacrifice, with a ram below his feet.

On the inside there are 41 statue groups depicting Mary’s life (the church is actually called Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Chartes).

Plus a huge statue of Mary’s assumption into heaven behind the altar.  To me, she appears to be levitating herself, not being carried off by the angels. 

Chartes is described as a book- since most were illiterate at that time, the windows and statues depict the events in the Bible from which people could learn the important events of the Bible. (plus others- like the assumption of Mary).
I had not heard of Malcolm Miller, the English tour guide, until I started reading to prepare for the trip to Chartes.   He is 80 years old, came to the cathedral 50 years ago, and has guided tours the entire time.  We went on his tour, and enjoyed every minute.  We spent our time at three locations in the cathedral learning about the west end windows, the North rose window, and the exterior statues on the north side.  He stated that a complete tour would take about 2 weeks- which I believe.  He appeared to be healthy- so it is difficult to speculate how long he will continue to provide his knowledge and humor. I asked him about the 3 little colored pins on his lapel. The French have awarded him 2 knighthoods plus another award.   The pins were the signs of his awards.  Apparently the French are very understated- no ribbons or medals- just 3 tiny pins.

Although the cathedral is full of people it is surprisingly quiet.  It was fun to see this cathedral after seeing Saint-Denis, the first Gothic cathedral.  It was liking first seeing a child learn to walk, and then 20 years later seeing her as an Olympic runner.

Outside the Cathedral is a modern statue of Bishop Fulbert.  He was the person who oversaw the rebuilding of the Cathedral after it burnt in 1194.  When the statue was revealed a comment was heard from the crowd, "My God, they dug him up from his grave."  It is a very stylized statute.

Next, lunch at an Indian restaurant (10 E each). Excellent food and service. Recover from the neck strain of looking up at windows and statues for 2 hours.

Next, on to the stained glass museum on the north side of the cathedral.  It would have been a disappointment if they had only their permanent collection on exhibit (about 10 panes from medieval windows and photos of some of the cathedral windows).  Their exhibit of contemporary German stained glass works made it worthwhile.  Lots of fused glass pieces. 

Design on this one is in the lead more than the glass.

Depth in glass.

Here's a door I liked in the courtyard of the stained glass museum.

Some time to relax in the gardens behind the cathedral before we left.

We also stopped at a stained glass gallery.  I “commissioned” Al to construct a copy of a contemporary piece depicting the cathedral. He accepted the commission.
On to a stop for ice cream.  By then it was 5 p.m. and our train didn’t leave until 6:30, so we did some grocery shopping, and Al bought another connector for all the electrical stuff we brought.  We used this connector to hook up our Vonage phone. The number is 651/204-0743. Amy called us on her cell phone- so we know that it will work from the U.S.  We now have 4 phones here- the apartment phone, the Vonage phone, our regular cell phones, and French cell phones (so that we can call each other when we are out and about).  Ten years ago, we had no phones when we travelled.  How did we manage.
Our friends coming to visit in Oct want to go to Chartes.  I am thrilled to have an opportunity to return to this lovely city and stand looking up for hours with my mouth hanging open in awe.
Tomorrow, another market and go to the Louvre.

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