Chartres, France: The Cathedral of Chartres
Approximately sixty miles southwest of Paris is the medieval town of Chartres. It’s Cathedral, Our Lady of Chartres, is world famous for its architectural wonders and is probably the most complete and best preserved medieval Church in the western world.
The Cathedral has over five thousand figures in its stained-glass windows depicting biblical scenes and lives of the saints. You need a guide book or description to really appreciate the stories told in the windows, which of course were necessary in a time where very few people could read.
The unique blue color used in the windows is known as “Chartres Blue“.
Besides being one of the most magnificent Catholic cathedrals in the world, the Cathedral of Chartres holds one of the greatest treasures. The Sancta Camisia, the Holy Veil of the Blessed Mother, believed to be the same veil Mary wore when she gave birth to Christ, is now kept in a golden reliquary inside the cathedral.
Unfortunately, as of December 2010, the Holy Veil is no longer available for public display. However it is taken out and processed through town each year of the Feast of the Assumption, August 15.
The town of Chartres is very lovely, interesting and easily explored on foot. Try to schedule a morning or afternoon visit if you will be visiting Paris for a great break from the city.
The Cathedral narrowly escaped destruction during World War II, when orders were given to U.S. forces bombard the Cathedral due to suspected German snipers in the tower. A heroic U.S. serviceman from Texas voluntarily went into the occupied town, climbed up the tower and found that there were no snipers present and the order was never carried out. You can read the rest of the story here.
In addition to the magnificent Cathedral, take some time to browse the numerous shops and sample the local specialties such as delicious pates, praline-filled chocolates called mentchikoffs and soft-crusted cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves called marsauceux.
Chartres is a great town for walking, shopping and relaxing.
Traveling to Chartres:
There are trains frequently from Paris to Chartres taking about one hour and the station in Chartres is just a short block from the Cathedral.
Remember, Paris has five main train stations (one for each point of the compass and one at Charles de Gaulle airport) so you need to check to see which station has trains to Chartres. Our experience is that they all leave from (and return to) Montparnasse Station. It is a short walk from the train station to the Cathedral. Get train & bus schedules, see fares & buy tickets here
Address: 16 Cloître Notre Dame, 28000 Chartres
GPS coordinates: 48° 26′ 37.8744” N, 1° 29′ 20.4432” E
Tel: (+33) 02 37 21 59 08
Click here for the official Chartres website (in French)
There is a restaurant/cafe near the train station in Chartres that has great French Onion soup–give it a try!
Annual Pentecost Pilgrimage to Chartes: there is a pilgrimage each year originating and Notre Dame in Paris and walking the 60 miles to Chartres. The walk takes place over three days and is joined by young and old alike.
It takes place around Pentecost and has up to 10,000 participants broken up in to small “communities”, each accompanied by a priest who will celebrate provide spiritual guidance and hear confessions. All are welcome to join.
Helping to restore the beauty of the Chartres Cathedral…..an organization known as the American Friends of Chartres is working to restore the windows to their former beauty. Over time, they have darkened due to dirt and other factors, and this group is helping in restoration efforts. Their newest project is to restore the “Bakers Window” and bring it to a museum in the U.S. for display. Here is the American Friends of Chartres website.