Eternally beautiful but ever-changing, when I first saw Chartres Cathedral in the mid 1960s it was almost black. Today one might, with no disrespect intended, call it “shades of gray” with some startlingly white and black patches. The latter according to some being the remaining filth of ages, 800 years of it: others might call it the patina that gave this sacred place deep mystery. Someone once described the interior of the Cathedral as “the womb of God” – the church is after all dedicated to Mary, the Holy Mother. I have always thought of it that way – a safe, dark (though not always warm!) place to hang out and just be. When I offered a mild complaint about the recent clean up, an understanding friend commented “as if your beloved grandmother had just got a face lift!” Yes, that’s it exactly! So let’s get the complaints over with before moving on. Disappointed again to find the sublime labyrinth was covered for the second year in a row and surrounded by scaffolding – which admittedly they are in the process of pulling down with resounding sound effects!
But we are on pilgrimage and our ever-creative leader urged us to enter into the new spirit of the place by asking these questions of ourselves with the invitation to pray about whatever came up for us as we sat and pondered the mystery of it all – the still beautiful, the ugly, the eternal and the impermanent:
What is it in your life that is being renewed?
Is there something that needs to be repaired or restored?
Adding this quote from Isaiah as further encouragement:
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I am about to do a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
“Not yet,” I answered!
The nave of Chartres “under restoration”, Continue reading Chartres
Another missing thread of our pilgrimage – in fact several million threads. This woven tapestry, a miracle of survival from the mid-11th century, once girded the magnificent nave of Bayeux Cathedral (consecrated in 1077) and tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 (a date known to every English schoolchild). Since it was commissioned by the half brother of Duke William of Normandy – the Conquerer himself – who was then Bishop of Bayeux, it is hardly surprising that the perspective favors the Normans. Also somewhat galling is the fact that the Cathedral was largely paid for by English money exacted by the said Bishop from his new fiefdom of Kent, and that this 230 ft work of art was sewn by English women (presumably nuns). If you look closely at the tapestry they did manage to get a few digs in at the Normans and the English King Harold himself, although killed in the battle, is shown in a surprisingly favorable light (for example rescuing Norman Knights who were about to drown in the quicksands around Mont Saint Michel). This naturally was before he and Duke William fell out over who should be King of England but says something about Harold’s character.
Duke William lands Continue reading The Bayeux Tapestry
Today in Bayeux we visited one of the least known labyrinths in France, the faded brick labyrinth in the old Chapter House in Bayeux Cathedral. Last week we visited one of the most unusual – the stunning black and white octagonal labyrinth in Amiens Cathedral. And in a few days we will be visiting the “Grandmother” of them all, the sublime 11 circuit labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral. We are holding our collective breath that the labyrinth in Chartres will finally have re-opened after several years during which the surrounding nave has been under restoration – if it is, that would indeed be a miracle! In the meantime a few words about these other marvels of medieval ingenuity.
The Amiens labyrinth is of course well known for its distinctive design and apparently miraculous state of preservation. It is however a 19th century copy of the original which makes in none the less impressive, as is the entire cathedral – another miracle of preservation given the destruction wrought on Amiens particularly by the wars of the last century. There is a particular harmony about Amiens Cathedral, a unity of design which is sometimes lacking in other cathedrals in France (there are 84 of them still – a greater number than in the whole world combined, or so we were told – I haven’t counted!). This is explained by the fact that Amiens Cathedral, like Chartres and Rheims, was built over a relatively short period of time, little more than 50 years, which is quite amazing when you consider the magnitude of these projects and the basic nature of 12th century technology (actually not so basic when one considers the mathematics, engineering, stone masonry and sheer brilliance of the design and execution involved). Another great marvel of Amiens Continue reading Labyrinths . . . of many shapes and sizes
Chartres Cathedral Northern Portal (shot in June 2015 by the author)
The nightly light show highlights the way many cathedrals were actually painted in the Middle Ages.
Amiens Cathedral nave & labyrinth – one of only 3 surviving medieval labyrinths in France today (heavily restored in the 19th century) Continue reading Coming soon Pilgrimage through Normandy June 2016