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Chartres During the Day

July 21, 2013


The Cathedral—officially named the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Chartres—was built in 1194. It was a replacement, however, for the original that had burned down. Indeed, a church devoted to the reverence of the Virgin Mary has sat in this spot since the fourth century. Part of the Cathedral floor actually remains from that period.

The place is huge. The nave is 427 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 120 feet high. Even the pipe organ makes you feel small; it is 80 feet off the ground, 30 feet wide and about 20 feet tall. Most impressive—and beautiful—is the 28,000 square feet of stained glass.

One of these glass windows is called the “Blue Virgin Window.” This mid-twelfth century stained glass depicts Mary dressed in blue on a rich red background, cradling Jesus while the dove of the Holy Spirit rests on her shoulder. For centuries the Blue Virgin has been a must see for pilgrims.

Those same pilgrims also continue to be in awe of Mary’s Veil. The veil was supposedly worn when Mary gave birth to Jesus. It is displayed behind a locked gate, in a glass window with a golden frame. Recent tests confirm that the material itself and the weaving technique date the cloth to the first century, so if this isn’t the genuine article, it’s from the same time period. No bogus Shroud of Turin here.

I think the most moving part of the day occurred in a small chapel in the Cathedral know as the Chapel of Our Lady on the Pillar. It is traditional for pilgrims to kiss the column in reverence and prayer, and I noticed a South Asian woman—dressed all in blue—doing just that. When she rose, and turned to leave the chapel, I also noticed she was pregnant.

Later, exiting the Cathedral, I saw her sitting outside, gently weeping. I don’t now how far she had travelled—the Catholic community in Mumbai, perhaps? —but I imagine the emotional and spiritual power of her experience made it worth the trip.

The great literary critic and avowed atheist Christopher Hitchens once called being in Chartres the closest to holy he has ever felt. That alone should tell you about the Cathedral’s majesty and mystical beauty.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 5, 2013 1:29 pm

    Feel free to read the trackback post from a “Shroud of Turin” blogger named Dan Porter who took exception to my “bogus Shroud of Turin” remark. He believes the Shroud is genuine, whereas I remain unconvinced.

    He doesn’t like the fact that I attest to the authenticity of Mary’s Veil, which if you look at my post, I don’t actually do. My favorite part is when he claims to find no evidence that Mary’s veil is from the first century, then quotes a source saying it’s from the first century.

    Finally, he compares me to Christopher Hitchens, wondering if Hitchens would have called something “bogus” given the mountains of evidence for it. I imagine not–but the Shroud of Turin is not one of those things with mountains of evidence in its favor.

    I have to admit, though, that I am flattered Mr. Porter took my travelogue seriously enough to devote an entire post to it. Thank you for that, Mr. Porter.

  2. Hugh Farey permalink
    August 5, 2013 3:52 pm

    I also found your blog via Dan Porter’s website. While I agree you don’t attest to the veil’s authenticity, you do claim that “recent tests confirm that the material itself and the weaving technique to make [sic] the cloth date to the first century.” I don’t think this is true, and wonder if you have any source for the claim?

  3. August 5, 2013 4:07 pm

    I am surprised you find that claim controversial, as Dan’s source says the same thing. Mine was Rick Steves’ 2013 Paris tour book. If you have a concern about that claim, I would suggest you take it up with Mr. Steves. The unfortunate part of this whole discussion is that the real meaning of my post seems to have gotten lost.

  4. Hugh Farey permalink
    August 5, 2013 4:48 pm

    Thank you. I’ve contacted him. Incidentally, your amended claim now reads: Recent tests confirm that the material itself and the weaving technique date the cloth date to [sic] the first century.” I don’t agree that the meaning of your post is lost, but if it is, I think that adding “No bogus Shroud of Turin here” is probably partly responsible. When you re-write the sentence before, you might like to excise that section…

  5. August 5, 2013 5:04 pm

    Thanks for catching my grammatical errors–it is much appreciated.

    However…you say the meaning of my post is not lost, and then you offer a reason as to why the meaning is lost? Not sure how both of those can be true.

    It is unfortunate that my flippancy seems to grate you so, but I see no reason to change it.

  6. Hugh Farey permalink
    August 5, 2013 5:47 pm

    No, no, I said “if.” I understand the point of the entry to be the profound effect that things in themselves (the building, its windows, its columns, its relics) can have on people, whether believers, like the lady from India, or non-believers like Hitchens. and that point, I believe, is not lost. Not on me; I have felt the same myself. However there may be those (Dan, say) who feel that quibbling about the date of a relic spoils the overall sense. I believe the sancta camisia to be as bogus as the shroud. If it matters, it makes a mockery of the awe some people feel in the presence of either of them, but I personally don’t think it does. Some may.

    On a lighter note, if there is in fact evidence that the camisia is first century, it will be music to the ears of those who would like to find evidence that sacred relics preserved from the time of Christ are at least possible, and no-one will be more grateful to you for publicising it than Dan himself!

  7. August 5, 2013 5:53 pm

    Thank you for the clarification, and I appreciate all of your feedback!


  1. No bogus Shroud of Turin here. Huh? | Shroud of Turin Blog

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