Cathedrale Notre Dame de Chartres – Ile-de-France, France

A Showcase of Gothic Expression

Chartres’s incomparable Gothic cathedral—the first to use flying buttresses and the third largest after Rome’s St. Peter’s and the Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, England—is known for its unrivaled stained-glass windows and the sculptures that decorate it inside and out.

The magnificent stained glass, covering an expanse of more than 27,000 square feet, is an almost incomprehensible achievement. The stir­ring jewel-like windows created by 12th- and 13th-century master glass artists were saved from destruction in both world wars by being removed piece by piece and hidden for safe­keeping.

The kaleidoscopic colors—ruby reds, emerald greens, “Chartres blue,” and rich golds —are once again brilliant and vibrant, as the windows undergo a lengthy, painstaking, and expensive restoration. For the illiterate masses they served as illuminated pages from the Bible, familiar narratives that could be read bottom to top—earth to heaven—and left to right.

Chartres Cathedral is a showcase of Gothic architecture and continues to stagger even the most blasé modern-day observer. The sixth church built on this spot, it houses a tunic worn by the Virgin Mary. The nave, the widest in Europe, barely accommodated the hordes of pil­grims who came during the Middle Ages. Things are no different today.

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