Monday, 4 October 2010

Chartres, France

Chartres is about an hour southwest of Paris. The town is probably most famous for its more than 800 year old gothic cathedral. This cathedral was one that many people travelled to on pilgrimages during the Middle Ages.

Embedded in the stone pavement of the cathedral is a labyrinth. The pilgrims would end their journey by walking the labyrinth to the center and then retrace their steps to its outer edges. The Chartres labyrinth was also sometimes walked by pilgrims in place of an actual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. "People believed that if you walked the labyrinth with the full dedication of a pilgrim, you would be transformed, the old you will be grounded at the threshold stone a purified you emerging, ready to tackle new directions in your life's journey."

The Chartres labyrinth, like many cathedral labyrinths, draws upon ancient northern Celtic, middle eastern, and Classical Greek and Roman origins of the Christian faith. "The Medieval builders were careful to incorporate their understanding of sacred architecture into the design and location of the labyrinths, which were usually placed near the entrance at the west end of the nave, beside the baptismal font at the foot of the Church. This location symbolizes our first steps on the spiritual journey."

The current Chartres cathedral may be more than 800 years old, but it replaces five previous cathedrals also built on this site. The previous cathedrals were destroyed by war or fire.
During the French Revolution mobs destroyed parts of the sculptures that adorn building. The townspeople were able to stop complete destruction of the cathedral, one of the few cathedrals that was attacked but not demolished during the Revolution.

I visited Chartres for a brief afternoon a few years ago. While the cathedral is what the town is most famous for, the town itself is beautiful. Many of the other buildings also date back to the Middle Ages.  

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