An Illustrated Monograph of Chartres Cathedral

An Illustrated Monograph of Chartres Cathedral

An Illustrated Monograph of Chartres Cathedral

An Illustrated Monograph of Chartres Cathedral

Excerpt

Our Lady of Chartres is one of the finest churches raised to the glory of God and the Virgin. It is most solid in structure, without heaviness; perfect in its proportions; -- the wonderful spires are like an invitation to prayer, and the severe beauty of the western front seems to scorn vain ornaments.

The nave with the harmony of its lines, at once takes hold of the soul! nor does any crushing sense of terror come down from the stoneblocks hanging some hundred and fifteen feet overhead, for the massive slender piers support them; and there is about the whole building an air of robustness and balance.

Then one walks on as if clad in a garment of gems which fall from our unrivalled windows; their soft light runs along the walls and floods the pavement; the colouring changes with the season and the hour, and, of an evening, when the last rays of the setting sun creep through that transparent mosaic, it is as if the walls were strewn with golden dust.

Did some medieval magicians want to carry us away to dreamland? No; artists merely tried to represent what the mystic city is, in which man's soul can meet with God; their ambition was to make of the church a dwelling worthy of the Virgin whom they worshipped.

A few steps farther will take us behind the chancel, and the vault of the ambulatory is a masterpiece. Now we enter a palm-forest in which the light gets more subdued inasmuch as the only openings are the lower windows, which are darker than those of either the transepts or the clerestory. And in that the mysticism of medieval artists is brought home to us, for they intended this place as « the Holy of Holies ».

Thus, in regarding the height of the nave or fathoming the depth of the side-aisles, the whole atmosphere being one of religious mystery, believers and atheists alike, provided they have a high- keyed and sensitive mind, cannot but experience a little of that unearthly joy so keenly felt by the devotees of our cathedral.

Yet they might pass by our statuary and miss all its significance -- though it is to us as an open book from which we read the heart of the medieval sculptors.

Let the custodian therefore guide you; and let us first study that peerless royal door, a work dating from 1150 or thereabouts. Nothing here is given to corporeal beauty; and one is led to wonder how men -- men of genius they surely were -- could, in the very birth of their art, thus show the soul radiating through the body, thus open up vistas on the divine. Behold the Christ of the middle tympanum; what stateliness and dignity in his bearing! He sits enthroned, surrounded by the elders of the Revelation; they, glorious in their ecstasy; he, regal in his triumph.

And what shall we say of those tall figures, kings ane queens of Judah, the supposed ancestors of Christ? They belong to the world beyond, and the serenity of their countenances seems reflected from the beatific vision.

If you should be tempted to say these are but rough draughts, clumsy attempts of an immature art unable yet to master life, we should deny the charge, and urge you to give a look at other scenes. Side by side with the apocalyptic vision, labour is represented and honoured. We have done now with composure and bliss; and we find common acts and gestures are faithfully pictured. Here, under the symbolic figures of the liberal arts, we see the men who became famous in every branch of learning. What pains they seem to take! Their knotted brows and tense faces show how strenuously they work. -- There, in twelve most direct and realistic little scenes, we watch the round of a year's toil.

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