The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Chartres, located in Chartres, about 50 miles southwest of Paris, is considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. The current cathedral is was built between 1194 and 1250, the fifth church built on the same site since the 4th century. The construction of the cathedral actually started in 1145, but a fire damaged part of the building; reconstruction and renovation took place over the following 26 years.
The cathedral has survived lightning strikes, the French Revolution and heavy bombing during World War II, which destroyed most of the surrounding city. In addition to its remarkable architecture, two other factors make the cathedral of Chartres worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage Site classification: its beautiful original stained glass windows and the labyrinth located in the center of the church. The majority of the stained glass windows in the basilica were made and installed between 1205 and 1240, however, some date from even earlier.
from even earlier. Located below the rose window in the west façade, the Passion, Infancy of Christ, and the Tree of Jesse windows are believed to date from 1145, but have been restored at least twice. Many of the windows reflect stories from the Old and New Testament, and the Lives of the Saints; they also include images of local tradesmen with details of their equipment and their work. All the windows, along with all the glass from the cathedral were removed from Chartres in 1939, just before the Germans invaded France. After the war, the windows were cleaned and releaded before they were replaced.
Set into the floor of Chartres cathedral is a labyrinth of over 42 feet in diameter. It represents the spiritual quest of pilgrims; it is suggested that these type of labyrinths served as a substitute for pilgrimage paths, with the center being the Holy City of Jerusalem. The center of the labyrinth in Chartres is now empty, but at one time there was an image of the Minotaur, a common motif in mazes and labyrinths. In medieval times, the pilgrims to Chartres would follow the path of the labyrinth on their
knees while praying; today, pilgrims still continue to visit the stone paved labyrinth, and walk the path to the center. Usually the labyrinth in the basilica is covered by rows of chairs, however it is traditionally uncovered every Friday from 10 am to 5 pm from Lent until Toussaint on November 1.
Tourists to Paris can easily visit the town and cathedral of Chartres by train or car, and many day trips are offered by tour companies. Regular train service is available several times a day from the Montparnasse train station; trip takes a little over an hour and costs roughly 15,00E one way. Other interesting sites in the town include beautiful gardens to stroll through, the “Picassiette” house, and the Fine Arts Museum. A busy Tourist Office located near the cathedral offers a variety of tours.