Considering Chartres Cathedral

The Chartres Cathedral is breath-taking.

I recently watched Chartres Cathedral: A Sacred Geometry a film that brings a conglomeration of stones to life.

Of all the architectural films I’ve seen, of all the structures I’ve studied, the Chartres Cathedral is by far the most interesting and stunning to me. It is so exquisitely designed. It is so perfectly built. It is so awe inspiring.

I think that the Chartres Cathedral is proof of what insignificant man can do when faced with the impossible task of attempting to honor religion through the construction of a church.

When I stop to consider the details, the massiveness, the grandeur, the symbolism, all wrapped up in a single building, I am rather at a loss for words. My mind is placed on pause, as I simply watch. Never has a building affected me like this before.

I have always appreciated architectural designs and beauty, but the Chartres Cathedral is more impactful to me than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (currently the world’s tallest building). The Chartres Cathedral is so well designed. The film states that there were no units of measure used to construct the cathedral, rather the master architect used his compass to define proportions. In other words, as the building was erected upward, a pair of points was half the distance of the previous pair of points – a method known as “geometric progression”.

However intelligent the designers were, we know that the peasants who actually cut and fitted the stones were ordinary men.

The simple reason for the care and effort that went into making Chartres Cathedral such a perfectly built structure, was that the builders built with religious fervor and inspiration. The Chartres Cathedral was built to the honor of the Virgin Mary and to replace the Bishop Fulbert’s cathedral which had been destroyed by fire. This fire was thought to have destroyed their most important relic – a cloth believed to have been worn by the Virgin Mary during the birth of Jesus Christ. But a couple days after the fire, some priests emerged from one of the crypts carrying the unharmed relic. The people of Chartres took this “miracle” as a sign that they were to rebuild the cathedral in honor of the Virgin Mary. And so the people built.

“A sacred place affects a person only in potential.” The person who views any architectural wonder must open his mind and remove distractions to fully appreciate the design, the builders, and the result. One of the professors said in the film that “everything about Chartres Cathedral was designed to open you up as a person”.

The cathedral was compared to a library, where the books were the columns, chapels, statues, and stained-glass windows.

It is so true.

Back in the Medieval times, books were extremely rare and most of the people were illiterate. Through the stained-glass windows, statues, and tapestries, the people were reminded of the Biblical stories and truths that they had heard and with these visual aids were able to more readily comprehend their beliefs.

I want to visit the Chartres Cathedral. I want to wonder, “What does the Chartres Cathedral” mean to me?

Not, what does the cathedral mean to the scholars or tour guides who know it so well, but me. I want to look at the buttresses, the vaulted ceilings, and feel the sunlight gazing through the stained-glass windows.

What would I consider?

What would go through my mind?

I want to sit in a chair and silently absorb its majestic simplicity. I want to feel the cathedral’s grandeur and feel my own insignificance. I want to realize that the stones of the walls, that are larger than I am, have been in existence before I was even considered. I want to appreciate the fact that the same stained-glass windows I look through were also seen by the eyes of people thousands of years ago.

Would all the fine details boggle my mind, or would I be able to understand the building both as a entity and multiple individualities?

I want to know.


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