Chartres, France

Cathedral of Notre Dame, Chartres, France
Ancient Autricum; later Carnutum.

Capital of the department of Eure-et-Loir, France. The ancient city was the capital of the Carnutes and an important centre of the Druids.

Its history as an episcopal see dates from the time of Constantine; suppressed in 1802, it was re-established in 1822. Burned by the Normans in 858, conquered by the English in 1417, and recovered in 1432, the Protestants unsuccessfully attacked it in 1568; in 1591 Henry IV took possession of the city and was crowned in the cathedral in 1594; and in 1870 the Germans entered, holding the town throughout the campaign.

The cathedral, Notre Dame de Chartres, to which the city principally owes its fame, was a favorite place of pilgrimage for the kings of France; the list of famous visitors includes John the Good, who left his pilgrim’s staff, now become the baton cantoral of the chapter; Edward III of England; and several popes. The substructure of the building encloses a well and vault, which, according to tradition, the early Christians found surmounted by an altar and statue of a woman seated with her child upon her knees, erected by the Druids. Upon this site, c.67, a church was built. What can now be seen of the early foundation, however, would appear to date from the 4th century. Destroyed by fire several times, in 1020 Bishop Fulbert invited the sovereigns of Europe to contribute toward rebuilding the cathedral, and though subsequent fires (1030, 1134, 1194) interfered with its progress, it was completed, 1220, and consecrated, 1260. Many of the original stained glass windows, of exceptional beauty, from which the “blue of Chartres” has become renowned, are still preserved; the damaged glass and frames are being restored through the munificence of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Like the magnificently sculptured porches, they are symbolic representations of the glorification of Mary. The upper windows were presented by Saint Louis, Saint Ferdinand, and Blanche of Castile. The choir enclosure dates from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The cathedral became famous for the threefold devotion paid to Our Lady through veneration of: (1) the statue of Notre-Dame-sous-Terre, a reproduction of the original Druid figure; (2) the Vierge Noire de Notre-Dame-du-Pilier (Black Virgin), in the upper church; and (3) the Voile de la Vierge (Veil of the Blessed Virgin), given to Charlemagne by Constantine Porphyrogenitus and Irene, transferred from Aachen to Chartres, c.876, and raised as a standard against the Normans by Bishop Gantelme, 911. In 1914 the Congregation of the Consistory confirmed the apostolicity of the Church of Chartres and the ancient origin of the famous statue of the Virgin. Besides the cathedral, the famous school of Chartres must be credited to the energy of Bishop Fulbert. Opened by him in 990, it drew scholars from every part of France, as well as Italy, Germany, and England, and became a center of classical scholarship, and a strong opponent of contemporary rationalistic tendencies.