As my art adventure continues, I set my GPS (crossing my fingers) and headed for Chartres. My eventual goal for the day was the Loire Valley, (which is about 3 hrs from Giverny). Along the way, I stopped in Chartres to take a look at the famous cathedral there. First off, let me say that I am not the biggest church fan. I’ve seen a lot of churches in my time, and they often feel empty and generally leave me a bit cold. I don’t want to come across as jaded, though I probably am. I’m just being honest about how they usually make me feel. I tell you this, because the cathedral at Chartres is different…its special. Definitely worth the time to go there.
Your first impression begins about 5 miles away. You can see it because the landscape all around is flat. It’s farmland. Flat fields of acreage planted all around, and as you come closer there it is. A huge spire in the distance. Built in the 1200’s (almost 900 ago!), it was the tallest in the world at the time. What’s so crazy, is that its sitting in the middle of farm country. It’s as if someone decided to plant the Empire State Building in a cornfield in Kansas. Not really, but you get my meaning. It’s impressive partly because it’s so unexpected.
When you make your way inside the cathedral you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. Inside it is mystical. Perhaps because there is no unfiltered light to be found. Every bit of light inside is filtered through stained glass. 176 huge and gorgeous stained glass windows form the largest intact collection of medieval stained glass in the world. That means this centuries old glass was in these windows even before my country of origin was ever conceived.
As I looked around and walked through the church, the spiritual sense of the place is alive and well. That sense of spirituality is rare in cathedrals that are famous tourist attractions. There was even a priest available for sacramental reconciliation all day. I have never seen that before. I found it impressive. For those of you who are non-catholic, this is a catholic ritual means of reconciling with God. You tell your sins to another person who is sworn to secrecy and acting as God’s agent of absolution. It’s powerful and not something that you see being made so readily available. Maybe that’s why the sacred atmosphere felt that much more authentic.As I moved around the huge space I began to try to take in all the art. The windows, the sculpture, the moldings, the tilework, the the architecture…everything… everywhere I looked was art! At Chartres, art seems to comprise the core theme of the sacred and the beautiful. Art was the expression of heartfelt human faith. That concept hit me hard. Everywhere I looked, I was looking at what probably constituted the lifework of hundreds if not thousands of artists. For hundreds of years every craftsman who worked on projects for that cathedral probably took their kids and grandkids there and said,”Look, this is what I created. This is how I contributed to the beauty of this place” There it was, and there it is, centuries later for us to enjoy.
Yet another reason I love being an artist. Right there in a nutshell…because art enriches life for those who make it and those who experience it. Art is a reflection of heart and soul, passion and spirit. It just makes life better…for everyone. I’m so glad I stopped here and got to appreciate that fact once again. I wish I could go back in time and tell those artists of old how much their work meant to me. I can’t tell them, but I can tell you. I hope you can get to see it someday. If not, then I hope you enjoy the photographs.