Cathedral of Notre Dame at Chartres

Chartres (The Cathedral of Notre Dame at Chartres)
View of Chartres from the southeast
Flying buttresses
As with many (the majority) of great gothic cathedrals, it is impossible to assign a single date or range of
dates of construction of the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Chartres (generally referred to simply as Chartres).
This is because rebuilding and additions were very common, and many additions to Gothic cathedrals were
made several centuries after the completion of most of the structure. In many cases, fire necessitated
rebuilding; in others, later clerics and others had bursts of ambition. Later additions often are not in the original
style of the structures. You’ll see one of the most obvious examples of this state of affairs as you examine the
west facade of Chartres and its towers. The north tower (at your left as you face the west façade) was begun in
1134, but its incredibly ornate spire was added four hundred years later, from 1507-13. The south tower (on
your right as you face the west façade), which was begun a bit later, in 1145, actually reflects more accurately
the original style of the construction, since no later addition was made. The facade itself also was completed in
stages, with the great rose window being a somewhat later addition to the structure. The majority of the
reconstruction of Chartres (the sixth and, so far, final major reconstruction) occurred between 1194 and 1260, a
time which represents the consolidation of the Gothic style in France into what is often called “High Gothic.”
Chartres is widely considered to be one of the world’s architectural masterpieces, and an outstanding example
of the Gothic style, particularly as practiced in Northern Europe. Its flying buttresses allow for large expanses
of stained glass, and for a resulting emphasis on light — to be appreciated for its own beauty, certainly, but
almost as certainly to be seen as a metaphor for the spirit of the Christian god, for holiness and enlightenment.
Its Gothic (pointed) arches, along with tall slender columns, give the cathedral a strong vertical emphasis
intended to convey a striving towards heaven.
The Gothic style grew out of the Romanesque style, which employed much heavier walls and, lacking the
buttressing system of Gothic buildings, tended to have much smaller windows. The Romanesque churches did
use groin vaults, an elaboration of the barrel vaults first developed by Roman builders. And they did use arches,
as well, but rounded arches rather than the pointed arches later developed in the Medieval (Gothic) period. One
element of church/cathedral design that remained relatively constant from a quite early period in the history of
Christianity was the floor plan, which borrowed from the Roman basilica (and which one might trace back, in
some form, to Greek temple design). The two images of 4th century C.E. (aka A.D.) churches shown below are
good examples of this basilica form. Without the later elaborations of transepts (cross arms), ambulatories, and
some other elements found in many Gothic cathedrals, these two designs both feature a wide central nave (aisle)
and two narrower side aisles on either side.
Construction of Chartres – a brief overview with some significant dates
See primary sources on the following page for some more information on the history and construction of
Three passages from more-or-less primary (?) sources on Chartres:
Chartres: The Royal (West – Central) Portal
Images from The Song of Roland
The Tree of Jesse
Chartres: The Patriarchs (including Abraham with Isaac: second from left)
Damned in clutches of devils from South Transept – recessed archivolt of central doorway
Architectural terms
Architectural terms
Column Statues
Flying Buttresses
Gothic arch
Barrel vault
Groin vault
Ribbed vault
Vesica Piscis
From Cave Art to Cathedrals: parallels and differences
Light (physical – spiritual)
Romanesque – Gothic: defining features of each; comparison/contrast of the two styles; Gothic as an
outgrowth of Romanesque
[Analogy between developments in Greek art from Archaic to Classical and, on the other hand, developments
from Romanesque to Gothic]
Contrasts and comparisons between the form and function of classical Greek temples (e.g., the Parthenon on the
Acropolis) and that of a Gothic cathedral (e.g., Chartres)
Significance of the Virgin Mary to Chartres: relics, etc.
Signficant dates in the history of Chartres: 1134, 1144, 1194
Cathedral Schools and the role of intellect in the building of cathedrals (e.g., Chartres)
Reasons why Chartres is notable & significant
Structural logic of buttresses and flying buttresses and the relation of buttressing with the desire for bigger
windows: more light!
Examples of logic in the architecture & construction of Chartres
Numerology in Christian theology
Typology (and the notion of Precusors) in the imagery of Chartres
The Church Militant: analogy between the military Crusades and the crusade of cathedral building
Literary connections (e.g., the Song of Roland)
Romanesque to Gothic transition/comparison
Romanesque features:
heavy walls
small windows
rounded arches
groin vaults
Gothic features:
lighter walls
larger windows
pointed ("Gothic") arches
larger (higher and wider) naves
flying buttresses
rib vaults
Cathedral: religious and other functions/definitions/metaphors
repository of relics
goal of pilgrimages
seat of bishop
encyclopedia of (medieval) culture
"program" of cathedral (e.g., of Chartres)
Major parts of a cathedral
Important developments of cathedral form in Gothic period/style
use of repeated units (the bay)
bay elevation refined (arcade, triforium, clerestory)
The Church Militant (cf. Song of Roland)
(Partial) slide list:
All the following images are of Chartres, from a wide variety of vantage points:
From the northwest
From the southeast at a distance: with town
West front facade with two towers
Central tympanum of west porch, c.1150-55: Jesus (as King), 12 apostles, symbols of the four evangelists
surrounding Jesus, and prophets, patriarchs, and angels in the recessed arches
Portion of layout of stained glass, including the choir, ambulatory, and apse
(Most of the glass dates from 1215-40.)
Rose window w/ lancet windows in north transept
Central portion of great lancets under rose window of north transept: St. holding the Virgin, flanked by David
w/lute above Saul, and (to right) Solomon above Jeroboam worshipping the golden calves
Central window of west facade, lower panels: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Tidings to the
Shepherds, Herod and his councilors, the Magi — 12thc.
Middle doorway of south transept, c.1212-20: Left: St. Peter; Right: Jesus w/the book of life
Inside of portico of south transept: from right to left: The Bishops: St. Nicholas, St. Ambrose, the Pope St.
Leon, and St. Laumer
Doorway of portico of south transept: from left to right: Sts. Martin, Jerome, the Pope St.
Gregory, Avitus
Detail of same doorway: St. Gregory w/dove of the holy ghost on his shoulder
The damned in the clutches of devils, from recessed archivolt of middle doorway, south transept
Corner between nave and north transept, w/flying buttresses
Blacksmiths (donors) detail of Window of Redemption from north wall of nave, c.1210-40
Bakers (donors): stained glass from Apostles series
Window of Saint-Chéron: Stonecutters and sculptors at work
Window of the Labors of the Months: Threshing Wheat in the Month of August
Labyrinth in pavement of Chartres, same circumference as the great rose window of the west façade, which is
above it): representing the pilgrim’s journey to Jerusalem, and by analogy the road to salvation as well as
Christ’s Passion
Grace Cathedral in San Francisco: Pavement labyrinth inspired by Chartres labyrinth
Detail of water-spout gargoyles
Rose window from outside