WASHINGTON, D.C – Europe is filled with stunning cathedral treasures that have stood for centuries. Many who have visited and studied the continent’s ecclesiastical architecture say France’s Chartres Cathedral is in a class by itself.
And this time of year, the soaring building is truly a mesmerizing site at night when a light show gives visitors even more to marvel. Through September 21st, a sound and light show, “scenography,” illuminates the cathedral and other monuments and city sites of interest in a way that brings visitors excitement they might not forget.
Located an hour from Paris, the present cathedral dates from the late 12th century, and has been a pilgrimage site since then. It is the last of at least five previous churches that occupied the site since the town became a bishopric in the 4th century.
Chartre Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a masterpiece of gothic art, inside and out. In the early days, it was a centerpiece for four great fairs that coincided with feast days for the Virgin: the Presentation, Annunciation, Assumption and the Nativity. Some pilgrimages also were held in response to outbreaks of disease.
One reason Chartres is exceptional is its state of preservation. It has survived wars, including World War II and other assaults through the centuries, with relatively few changes since its consecration in 1260.
The architecture, statuary, and a majority of its 160-plus original 12th and 13th century stained glass windows survive intact. This preservation is due mostly to the fact that the windows were removed and hidden away from the city in 1939 just before Hitler invaded France. After the war they were cleared and re-leaded before replacement. The surviving glass windows are also notable for their deep blue tints, something unknown elsewhere.
The cathedral also survived the French Revolution. Anti-religious fervor was raging, and a mob tried to destroy sculptures on the north portico. Townsfolk stopped the assault.
Another unusual element of Chartres is that it was built almost entirely in only 30 years, unlike Paris’ Notre-Dame and others, which were erected over centuries of time. The short buildout period helped give Chartres design integrity at a time when Gothic architecture style was at its peak. To ensure its continued preservation, cleaning and restoration are practiced regularly.
Though the cathedral is a must-see any time of year, the nighttime light show is yet another reason to put this stop on your France touring itinerary now. For more information about touring France, visit www.franceguide.com.
Read more of Ruth Hill’s travel columns at Contemporary Christian Travel in the Washington Times Communities.
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