Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Day Trip to Chartres

I finally uploaded pictures from the last month I spent in France and realized I forgot to post pics from my day trip to Chartres!

Chartres is a city about an hour south of Paris by train and famous for its cathedral and the beautiful blue color of the cathedral's stained glass. The cathedral is well worth the trip, the sculptures and stained glass are fantastic. The town is cute but not one of the cutest I've seen.

The cathedral is a place of pilgrimage because it houses the Santa Camisa, a tunic that belonged to Mary. Such an important relic needed an equally important cathedral; the best artisans came to Chartres to sculpt and create the stained glass. The cathedral can be seen from distant fields, rising above the surrounding landscape to guide pilgrims. The towers are different styles because one of them burned down (along with a good part of the city and half the cathedral) and was rebuilt in the new gothic style.

I can't even tell you how blown away I was by the sculpture on the cathedral. Back in the Middle Ages most people couldn't read, and they certainly couldn't read Latin (this was before the Bible had been translated into the vernacular). The doorways of the cathedrals contained fantastic sculptures meant to be like giant picture Bibles for the people to "read" and the stained glass inside was for the same purpose. Everything in the house of God had to be beautiful and grand to glorify the Creator. I always try to imagine what it must have felt like back then to be a poor peasant who lived a life colored in mud and hard work in the fields with no extra money or time to buy or make beautiful things, and then to come to a cathedral and be confronted by the beauty of the sculptures and stained glass, how awe inspiring that would be.

Picture of one of the portals on the west facade (the main entrance of a cathedral is always on the west side. Maybe so that the altar points east to Jerusalem? hahaha). I think this is Christ in Majesty, and the animals around him represent the four apostles.

Close-up of one of the tympanum sculptures, I think this represents Mary enthroned with the baby Jesus and the death of Mary.

Saints on either side of the door. The distorted, elongated style is typical of pre-renaissance sculpture, but notice that they fit the shape of the door jamb quite nicely.

More saints, love the sculpture on the base of the columns

The detailing on the columns above the heads of the saints is unbelievable.

How wonderful is this column??!!

Even the flying buttresses had statues in them! I like the hunchback-like guy in the middle, makes me think of Quasimodo.

This is the most famous example of the Chartres blue color in stained glass, Mary holding the baby Jesus. Unfortunately my photos didn't turn out that well (I'm a terrible photographer, if you guys haven't realized that by now), so if you want a better image go google it.

There are other examples of Chartres blue throughout the cathedral. Here is one of the rose windows with either saints or kings in the windows below.

This is the chapel where the Sancta Camisa is kept.

These guys were in a garden behind the cathedral, some kind of modern art exhibit. Wouldn't surprise me if it were Jeff Koons (is his stuff still stinking up Versailles?).

Eglise St Aignan is a delightful, small church located on a side street.

It's interesting because the interior is completely painted, which is actually how all churches used to be back in the Middle Ages, and if I'm not mistaken it was during the Victorian era and their fascination with the Gothic style that the interior paintings were either scraped off or painted over. The outsides of the churches were also painted. Over the years most of this color would have peeled off anyway. (side note: just spent lots of time looking through various books and websites for the definitive answer to why churches are no longer painted on the inside and can't find it. Done looking. If you have other info, do share)

And some pictures of the town:


Andromeda said...

Most churches are oriented like St. Peter's. Or the opposite so that it stays different from the rest, Can't remember right now, it's too early in the morning.

I imagine that if the paint disappeared after a while, people might not have known it was there in the first place so when building neo-gothic stuff they wouldn't have painted it. This is why Roman statues were never painted but Greek were. But not really sure about the churches. Maybe as people got more literate, they didn't need it as much to explain the stories?

There's one church in Metz, the Chapelle des Templiers, that was repainted in the early 20th century to look "Medieval" and of course it doesn't because they didn't really have the same resources we do now, so it's this 12th century church with art deco painting, it's pretty funny. But pretty neat too.

au soleil levant said...

I only mentioned the direction of the churches because both synagogues and mosques face east - synagogues towards Jerusalem, mosques towards Mecca (well, as long as you're to the west of those two cities). I was trying to be funny. We're all more the same than we are different. According to Wikipedia it's so that the congregation faces the direction of the coming of Jesus (from Jerusalem, presumably).

I'm pretty sure that I heard the Victorians scraping the paint off story when I took the visite conferencier at Mont St Michel, that's what the guide said (otherwise it was some other guided tour). But we can imagine that by then it would have been pretty faded, the Catholic church had lost power with the rise of Protestantism and consequent falling revenues and a less prominent political role, and it may not have seemed as pressing to keep painting these enormous structures, which would have been very labor intensive, time consuming, and expensive. But I don't really know. Guess we'll have to do some more hunting to find the real answer!

That's funny about the Chapelle des Templiers, I'll have to try to see that some day!

Animesh said...

great pics! Wish I lived in France too.

oh. wait. nevermind. :P

au soleil levant said...

Very funny

Zhu said...

I used to stop there driving from Nantes to Paris, long time ago... the cathedral is definitely a must-see.