My friend Tammy spent last week in Chartres doing a workshop about spirituality and the church. Always eager to go someplace new, I took the one- hour train ride from Paris to meet her right after her workshop finished. I figured what better way to learn about the cathedral than from an enthusiastic friend who was probably busting to tell someone what she learned all week. I arrived on Saturday afternoon at 12:30PM and could see the overpowering structure from the train window before I pulled into the station. It was a half sunny day with dramatic clouds coming in and out with a breezy temperature of about 68 degrees.
The magnificent Chartres French Cathedral built between 1194 and 1220 is one of the finest examples of French Gothic style architecture. One of its most famous features is the174 stained glass windows. An interesting fact I learned was during WWII the windows were taken out and hidden to protect against German bombers. It was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1979.
As we entered the Cathedral, which was practically a second home to Tammy now, I was awed by the scale and scope of it. The cool, dark silent atmosphere was sobering. Tammy explained in great detail about the windows and I stared in awe at the natural light streaming through breathtaking colors of ruby red, royal blue and mustard yellow glass. I could’ve spent hours deciphering the intricate patterns inside the fleur de lis, diamonds, and circle shapes. She also showed me the famous labyrinth on the floor. I’ve heard the word labyrinth over the years but I was always too embarrassed to admit I was clueless about what it was. A labyrinth is similar to a maze and it has an unambiguous through-route to the centre and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate. As we walked the labyrinth, Tammy said that one of the magical things about walking a labyrinth was that it helped collect your thoughts and centered you.
Viewing large churches always make me hungry, along with most everything else, so we settled in an outdoor restaurant facing the cathedral. We had a hearty French country meal for a decent price of 17 euros each. As we devoured a scrumptious fruit laden tiramisu we noticed a beautiful bride and her dapper groom posing for wedding pictures in front of the cathedral. It was so romantic!
After we strolled around the charming town that didn’t have too many cloyingly cute touristy shops (Thank God!), we found some fun things to buy. I bought a sac of pretty blue stained glass rocks and I also found this delightful newly opened antique shop. The owner, a chic 30 something woman with fabulous candy striped fabric shoes I couldn’t take my eyes off of, was vivacious and shared about the eclectic items in the shop which many I coveted. I bought a birthday present for the ever so hard to please Vincent: a calendar from 1904 with an illustration of a nun on the front to advertise aspirin. Vincent was highly influenced by the sisters and his Catholic school upbringing so it was the perfect gift.