Saturday, 20 May 2017

Paris Day 9

Today we caught the train to Chartres, a cold start to the day, it is only going to be a top of 16 degrees. So with the cold air bringing us alive this morning we headed off to see the magnificent Chartres Cathedral of Notre Dame, probably the most beautiful Gothic church in the world. Chartres sits on telluric earth currents, natural electric current flowing near the earth’s surface. These currents were known to be at their highest here and were recognised during the Druidic times.

Originally a site dedicated to the Mother Goddess. Pilgrims journeyed here long before Jesus’ time. The original altar, built above a Druidic Grotto, housed an ancient dolmen identified as the “Womb of the Earth”. The dolmen was known as the chamber of the Black Virgin or the Black Madonna. Known to the Gauls as Carnutes and according to Julius Caesar was the central meeting place for the Druids and Druidesses of Gaul and beyond.

Some researchers propose that it is located on a leyline linking Glastonbury and Stonehenge in England, as well as the pyramids of the Giza Plateau in Egypt. Built by masons trained by the Knights Templar using the principles of sacred geometry. On their old pilgrimage route it was the centre that was the Sun Oracle, the Male suphur energy that balances the moon energies at St James de Compostela, Spain and is associated with the colour green, and the 4th chakra energies (Heart Centre of love and devotion).

The cathedral’s West Front, North Porch, and South Porch all have 3 huge doors. Chartres is unique in having 3 separate triple-doorways.

Even the elegance of the exterior does not prepare the visitor for the wonders that lie within. The spacious nave is the widest in France and stands 121 feet (36m) high. There is an unbroken view from the western end right along to the magnificent apse in the east, 427-foot (128m) away. Clustered columns rise dramatically from plain bases to the high pointed arches of the ceiling, directing the eye to the massive clerestory windows in the apse.

At the east end, an ambulatory wraps around the choir and sanctuary, dramatically vaulted and divided from the latter by a magnificently carved choir screen. It was erected in the 16th century and its sculptures were gradually added over a long period between the 16th and 18th centuries. The sculptures depict scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Not only is Chartres Cathedral one of the greatest achievements in the history of architecture, it is almost perfectly preserved in its original design and details. Chartres' extensive cycle of portal sculpture remains fully intact and its glowing stained-glass windows are all originals. Chartres is thus the only cathedral that conveys an almost perfect image of how it looked when it was built.

The cathedral survived a fire in 1134 that destroyed much of the rest of the town, but was not so lucky on the night of June 10, 1194, when lightning ignited a great fire that destroyed all but the west towers, the façade and the crypt. The people despaired when it seemed that the Sancta Camisia had also perished in the fire. But three days later it was found unharmed in the treasury, which the bishop proclaimed was a sign from Mary herself that another, even more magnificent, cathedral should be built in Chartres. Donations came in from all over France and rebuilding began almost immediately in 1194. The people of Chartres volunteered to haul the necessary stone from quarries 5 miles away.

The construction project used the plans laid out by the first architect in order to preserve the harmonious aspect of the cathedral. Work began first on the nave and by 1220 the main structure was complete, with the old crypt, the west towers and the west facade incorporated into the new building. On October 24, 1260, the cathedral was finally dedicated in the presence of King Louis IX and his family. Chartres Cathedral was never destroyed nor looted during the French Revolution and the numerous restorations never have altered its glorious beauty. It always stayed the same: a great triumph of Gothic art. 

The plan of the Gothic cathedral is a Latin cross with three aisles, a short transept and an ambulatory. The rounded east end has five semi-circular radiating chapels. The high nave is supported by double flying buttresses, anchored by colonnettes and great abutments. The latter were lightened in appearance with niches filled with sculptures. An extra row of single flying buttresses supported the apse from the beginning and a third row was added in the 14th century. Chartres was the first building on which buttresses were used as a structural element that determined the overall external appearance of the building. They were necessitated by the unprecedented size of the clerestory windows and the height of the nave.

The only aspect detracting from Chartres Cathedral's elegant symmetry are the mismatched west spires. The south spire is a 349-foot (105m) plain Romanesque pyramid dating from the 1140s, while the north is a 377-foot (113m) early 16th-century Flamboyant Gothic spire on top of an older tower.

In addition to the famed west front, both transepts have large rose windows, flanking towers and three sculptured portals each. This design was modeled on the rose-windowed transepts at Laon Cathedral, but the three-portal layout is unique to Chartres. In total, Chartres Cathedral has nine portals, including three salvaged from the earlier cathedral on the west portal.

The stone floor still bears its ancient floor labyrinth (1205), used for walking contemplation by monks and still used for meditation by pilgrims. There is just one path through the labyrinth and it is 964 feet long. According to John James, the center of the labyrinth once had a metal plate with figures of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur, figures from the classical myth of the labyrinth on Minos. The circumference of the labyrinth is 131 feet, almost exactly the same size as the West Rose window. Intriguingly, the labyrinth is the same distance from the west entrance as the West Rose is from the floor - so if the west wall fell inwards, the rose would land directly on the Labyrinth.

While much has been written about the purpose of this labyrinth, little contemporary documentation survives. The Labyrinth, an ancient goddess tool for transformation, with one path in and out of it. The axis mundi of the Cathedral passes over the Labyrinth, symbolizing the way to God/Goddess here on earth. 

We were fortunate enough to be able to walk the Labyrinth ourselves as we visited on a Friday when they remove the chairs. As I slowly walked into the centre I felt calm and astonished that I was walking on these sacred stones that so many before me have done. It was quite with only a couple of other people on the Labyrinth when I walked so I took slow deliberate steps. I was blessed to be able to stand in the centre alone for many minutes offering up my blessings and prayers, it was at this stage that I felt a physical holding within my heart space. I was then able to walk out again slowly with a few more people to encounter, again interesting how these represented the encounters in life I thought and then I leant down and touched the stones with my hands at the end offering my deep gratitude to have had this experience. 

As spiritual as Chartres is, the cathedral also had its more earthbound uses. Look closely and you can see that the main nave floor has a subtle slant. It was designed to provide drainage because this part of the church was often used as a “hostel” by thousands of overnighting pilgrims in medieval times.

Throughout the cathedral, vivid color splashes on to the floor from the superb stained glass windows that glow like jewels. Dating from the early 13th century, Chartres Cathedral's glass largely escaped harm during the religious wars of the 16th century; it is said to constitute one of the most complete collections of medieval stained glass in the world. Depending on how you count, there are between 150 and 170 medieval stained glass windows in Chartres Cathedral.

The West Rose dates from early 13th century and its three lancet windows are from c.1150. The rose window depicts the Last Judgment: Christ in judgment is surrounded by Four Evangelists and angels, then scenes of angels blowing trumpets, resurrection, judgment, heaven and hell. 

Another very notable window is the Blue Virgin Window (Notre Dame de la Belle Verrière) (Our Lady of the Lovely Window), created around 1150 and now part of a window in the south ambulatory aisle next to the transept.

Chartres is home to over 400 images of the Feminine found on the walls and in the windows and is recognised as a spiritual center for the mysteries of the Divine Feminine since the Druids first consecrated the site 3000 year ago. According to legends, it was the location of an ancient mystery school. 

Here in the main church was the Black Madonna, radiating waves of unconditional love. Local legend says that the wouivre, the ancient female earth power rises up through her from the ancient well in the crypt. Thus the capital of the ancient Druid world was dedicated to Alchemy and the Divine Feminine since Celtic times.

She is set to the side of the church with her own small chapel, when I arrived there were three rows of chairs available in this private area and only two other people sat there so I was able to sit in the front row looking up into the Madonna and Child. I was so amazed that here I sat in this magnificent Cathedral in front of this beautiful statue, in the quiet of the church. There was such a strong sense of being there were for centuries millions had sat before me, looking up as I was, sharing their dreams, praying, and being held in her grace. I felt an opening of some kind that I have a sense will be followed through with more intention and knowing as my time here in France continues. Such a special time, a true gift that I have been granted and one that I give gratitude for.

The North Rose and its five lancet windows were a gift from Queen Blanche of Castille in 1230. The rose window depicts the Glorification of the Virgin: Virgin and Child surrounded by doves and angels, then Old Testament kings and Old Testament prophets. Lancets, from left to right: Melchizadek and King Saul; King David and King Jeroboam; St Anne and the infant Mary with the arms of the Royal House of France; King Solomon and King Nebuchadezzar; Aaron and Pharaoh.

The village of Chartres is just so charming and quaint, quiet, peaceful and serene, I felt that it would be a wonderful place to live.

After our time in the church we went to view the Crypt, which unfortunately was a French Speaking tour so it was difficult to have understanding of what we saw. However we were blessed with being able to view the Black Madonna of the Crypt, Notre Dame Sous Terre (Our Lady Underground) is made of pear wood, with a crown of Druidic oak leaves. She was one of the major prayer and offering shrines on the medieval pilgrimages. She is a replica of the old Black Madonna that was destroyed during the French Revolution when the statue was burned on an execution pyre. Some researchers say that this destroyed statue was itself an 11th or 12th century one. There are earlier references to a small black image of pagan origin – the Virgin whom it was predicted by the Druids would give birth to a saviour. What has happened to this is not know.

The crypt contains a healing well that was the focus of Druid ceremonies. Saints Forts Well is 33mtr deep, has a square shaped base. Named in memory of the first martyrs who would have been thrown into it. 

There were faint remnants of fresco will on the walls of the crypt, which could be seen in the dim light. 

Of all the stain glass, that is so rich in colour, just impossible to describe, the vividness of the red and the blue accompanied by the other colours, really were the most beautiful I have ever seen. Yet in the crypt this smaller, simpler stain glass winder had such a impact on me. There was a palpable calmness standing before it, as the tour was in French and I couldn’t understand it, I just lingered at the back of the crowd and stayed alone in the little alcove that had these windows in it and the feeling was just amazing, in the very dim light, alone in the child of the crypt I felt a relief of stress, relaxed and just at a sense of peace. 

A 12th century fresco representing Pope St Clement, St Nicholas, then the apostles St James, St Peter and St Martin.

19th Century painting recalling the story of Mary and the different saints from the Diocese of Chartres.

The baptismal font from the 12th century.

There is even a labyrinth in the garden to the back of the church.

The north portal, recently cleaned of industrial grime, illustrates the Old Testament and the Virgin Mary as precursors and preparations for Christ. Because the cathedral faces southwest instead of the traditional west, the north portal receives a blaze of sunlight in the evening. Between the doors in the central portal is a statue of St. Anne holding an infant Mary. In 1204, Chartres received a relic of the head of St. Anne from Constantinople; the central statue was probably added in honor of it.

After our day at the church we caught the train back to Paris and had some dinner before going on a night river cruise. Embarking from the charming wharf of Arsenal near the Bastille,  we crossed the famous sluice of the Arsenal before entering to the river Seine towards the heart of the city to discover Paris illuminated. 

The Liberty Statue located in the Grenelle Bridge.

The Eiffel Tower sparkling its thousand lights, an amazing show that takes time every hour.

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