Considered by most to be the perfect expression of Gothic architecture, this French treasure was reconstructed on the charred ruins of its predecessor in 1194.  Asymmetrical towers are typical of medieval Europe as pure symmetry was considered evil (that’s one theory, anyway).  I expect that the cost of the construction (most were built many decades – often centuries apart) also goes some way to explaining stylistic differences (yes, fashion changed even back then, albeit much more slowly than today).

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The sculpture of the portals adhere to a strict iconography and was developed during the romanesque period.  The tympanum (located in the area above the door) typically depicted Christ in majesty – often with the damned being led to hell on his left and the blessed being admitted to heaven on his right.  Such symbolism was taken extremely seriously in the middle ages – to the extent that people considered left-handedness to be a sign of evil.  Not a period for your’s truly to have lived!  In this image we see Christ during the 2nd coming flanked by the four beasts of the apocalypse.

Loir north - Chartres cathedral facade sculpture 6  As a tourist (as opposed to an architectural purist) I must say that I found the light and sound display of an evening breathtaking.  Quite a surprise for me at the time (I never thought it would be as spectacular as it was) and the spontaneous and (largely) unanimous applause at the end was genuine.  Some of the other displays around town were more intimate and incredibly romantic (the black and white movie projected onto the tiny church just up the road from the Cathedral was particularly memorable).

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A few years ago the French Government approved a cleaning/restoration project that raised plenty of eyebrows – particularly amongst purists in the USA.  The renovators claim that they are restoring the interior to its former glory, drawing on the remnants of paint and decoration found under centuries of grime.  The detractors say that the finished product bears no relation to the original intention of the builders and is an appalling travesty.  What do I think?  I’ll wait until the project is completed to form my judgement, but I have no objection to the initial results.  What’s your opinion?

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But the glory of Chartres, of course, is the stupendous medieval stained glass.  Famed for its blues and reds, for a – mostly – illiterate congregation it was their only visual access to the stories of the bible.  An absolute feast for the eyes and a life-enhancing experience.