Chartres Cathedral (1979)

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Partly built starting in 1145, and then reconstructed over a 26-year period after the fire of 1194, Chartres Cathedral marks the high point of French Gothic art. The vast nave, in pure ogival style, the porches adorned with fine sculptures from the middle of the 12th century, and the magnificent 12th- and 13th-century stained-glass windows, all in remarkable condition, combine to make it a masterpiece. 

France 1963. Stained Glass Window in Chartres Cathedral. France 1963. Chartres Cathedral. First Day Cover.

Chartres Cathedral, the cathedral church of Notre Dame (Our Lady) in the city of Chartres, in northwestern France, is one of the foremost examples of High Gothic architecture, and widely imitated for its innovations in architecture, sculpture, and stained glass. 

Construction of a Romanesque-style cathedral began in 1120 on the site of an earlier church. This cathedral was mostly destroyed by fire in 1194. The building we see today, acclaimed as a turning point in Gothic architecture, was begun that same year and largely completed by about 1220, although decorative and other additions continued to be made for several hundred years thereafter. The most prominent of the later additions is the northwest spire, the Clocher Neuf, completed in 1513 to balance the earlier spire, which dates from 1160.

Chartres is the first Gothic cathedral for which the original plans included flying buttresses for structural support. Flying buttresses, an innovation of Gothic architecture, are arched projections attached to the exterior of a building. They transfer its weight away from the walls, thus allowing for a higher structure and more windows, since the walls need not support the weight of the building by themselves. 

  • France 1944. Chartres Cathedral. Semi-postal stamp.

France 1944. Chartres Cathedral.  Semi-postal stamp.

Chartres Cathedral is also well known for its more than 150 stained-glass windows, most of which are original, dating from about 1210 to about 1260. They cover a surface area of over 2000 sq m (21,500 sq ft). 

France 1979. Chartres Cathedral. Pre-cancelled.

The architectural sculptures at Chartres are among the first since classical Roman times in which carved figures reflect individualized characteristics. 

In addition, the figures project further from the building than earlier examples, allowing for the depiction of more naturalistic movement.

  • France 1979. Chartres Cathedral on a pre-cancelled stamp. 

While these sculptures still appear stiff by later standards, they mark the beginning of a trend toward portraitlike carving. More than 2000 sculpted figures decorate the cathedral, including several in the only surviving section of the pre-1194 building, an area surrounding three doorways at the lower west front. Most of the sculpture in this entryway, called the royal portal, was carved between 1145 and 1170.  

Sources and links:

Other World Heritage Sites in France (on this site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section France for further information on the individual properties.  

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Revised 09 sep 2007  
Copyright © 1999 Heindorffhus 
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