Saturday, 29 September 2007


When Dad was visiting me we took a train trip out to Chartres for the day, it's about an hour to the South-West of Paris. It is a real pretty town, where I had perhaps the best coffee I've had since I've been over here. The real reason to go to Chartres is to see the cathedral, which is one of the best gothic cathedrals in Europe. It was built in 1020, but the Romanesque church was destroyed in a fire in 1194, only one tower and the holy relic (the veil the Virgin Mary was apparently wearing when she gave birth) survived.
The church was rebuilt in just 30 years, resulting in the gothic cathedral which is standing there now. The tower on the left is the "new" gothic tower while the one on the right is the Romanesque tower which survived the fire.

This is the holy relic and is the reason the church was rebuilt as it somehow managed to survive the big fire and therefore must be holy, thus the need for a massive church. Personally I don't know why Mary was wearing a veil when giving birth. I reckon it would be pretty annoying to be wearing a veil and as they didn't have drugs back then I think anything annoying would have been discarded. "Scientists" have apparently dated the veil to the 3rd century AD, so perhaps our calendar system is 3 years out of date? Either that or Mary wasn't wearing this when she gave birth.

The cathedral has some 170 stained glass windows which is meant to be one of the best collections of medieval stained glass in Europe. It is hard to get stained glass windows to come out in photos so you'll just have to go see for yourselves.

While we were there we went up the bell tower, which is the real gothic looking tower of the two and is 112m high. It was up here that you really notice the French idea of personal responsibility. I've seen it at a few other churches, which maybe I've already written about. So you are 112m above the ground and all that is stopping you from falling over is a lowish wall, I mean if someone really pushed you, you could probably fall over (if you were unlucky). If this was Australia there would be a massive fence to protect people from themselves, but here the attitude seems to be more that if you are stupid enough to fall over than there is nothing the French are going to do to stop it.

Chartres also has an "old town" down by the river where houses date from the 16th century, this part of town is also really pretty. Overall it was a very relaxing day spent wandering around the town.
This is Dad in front of one of the old houses.

We also went to the Musee des Beaux-Arts which is in the former Bishop's Palace. All the Musee des Beaux-Arts I have visited have been in former bishop's residences, I'm not sure why that is. It makes the museum experience a little strange as you really feel like you are just wandering around someone's house. The Musee had a real random collection of stuff, a few musical instruments, various armour and also stuff from the Pacific Islands and New Zealand. The best thing there was this children's exhibit where someone had done famous paintings as lego people and then photographed them. There was one of the hand of God (I think) is where a hand is stretching out of the clouds and there is a little lego man stretching up to reach him, and they both have those funny lego hands which are just C's.

Below is the "labyrinth" recreated in the garden behind the Musee des Beaux-Arts. The real labyrinth is inside the cathedral and was built in the 13th century and is a feature of a lot of medieval churches. As a penance people would follow the path around the circle on their knees. The one in the Chartres cathedral is 262m long and the path took at least an hour to complete, that's some serious penance!

On the left is the back of the Chartres cathedral from the garden of the Musee des Beaux-Arts and on the right is the cathedral towering over the old town, down by the river Eure.

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