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Chartres Cathedral--another temple to Mary the Queen

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

Chartres isn't very far from Paris, by modern standards, and its veneration of Mary is an occasion for comparisons to Notre Dame de Paris. Chartres' cathedral has distinctive representations of the figure, and points to other figures who give her role context--Anne, her barren mother; Mary Magdalene, with her more sensual love of Jesus (as opposed to Christ); and Old Testament Queens, such as the Queen of Sheba.


La Belle Verriere


This window is arguably the most famous at Chartres. It's named "Notre Dame de la Belle-Verriere," which I translate as "Our Lady of the Blue Mantle." This refers to the striking blue vestment she wears, which at the time of day I shot this, unfortunately, was rather blown out by bright sunlight. It is a luminous sky-blue in less-extreme light. In this scene, she is Madonna, Queen of Heaven, and throne of wisdom. She is shown here in monumental scale, dwarfing all figures around her. The famous cobalt blue pieces of glass which compose much of the background, are so famous they're given the name "Chartres Blue."



In fact, the color of the stained glass at Chartres (and just in general), is so stunning (quite intentionally), that one can often lose appreciation of the skill of the composition of the cut pieces, and, even moreso the painted (and/or etched) designs in the window. So, here, I give you a black-and-white version of the window. You can see that quite a lot of the impact of the composition comes from those painted pieces, not just from placement of colored shapes.



The South Rose Window


The South Rose Window is quite different from the rose window at Notre Dame de Paris I discussed in a previous post--where that was more of an organizational chart. Here, the figures surrounding an enthroned Christ are more in the position of courtly attendants and footmen: The inner petals of the rose are attending angels (similar to those in the Belle Verriere window), and the outer roundels are the 24 Elders, who attend Christ's coronation at the Apocalypse with music and perfume.



The West Rose Window


The West Rose window rather blows my mind, because it was the first time I'd seen a Last Judgment rendered in a radiating format. I'm more used to the arrangement in strata that is done in the tympana of (usually) west portals. Here, you have Christ in Majesty, but in a quatrefoil instead of the usual mandorla. In the small roundels of the petals are attendant angels and the figures of the tetramorph. Lots and lots of wings. At 12 o'clock is the heavenly Bosom of Abraham for the saved. At 2,3,4, 10, 9, and 8 o'clock are the Apostles (I'm fairly certain). At 6 o'clock the archangel Michael is weighing souls with an adorable green-faced demon; the crowned and clothed saved go with Michael to the left at 7 o'clock, and the naked damned go with the demon (now orange-faced) to the right, presumably to hell.



Mary Magdalene

There's an elaborate late 17th-century choir screen at Chartres, and in it one finds this Magdalene (at the foot of the Cross). I've darkened the other figures so that you can see her better--she has the customary sensual flowing hair. She also appears in the original 13th-century program as one of the Apostles, surprisingly, as a carving into the engaged pillars. Both of these roles counter are subordinated to Mary. The Magdalene generally, as the art seems to go here, inserts an earthly and intrusive vibe, where the Virgin Mary is set apart from everyone except Christ as removed from the living to the eternal.




The Queen of Sheba

The Queen of Sheba stands as one of the engaged pillars in the Western Portal, among the kings and queens of the Old Testament. I think she is quite similar to the Magdalene, in that she was in political/active (and perhaps sensual) proximity to a religious ruler--Solomon. She has striking hair, like the Magdalene in the portal area, but it is bound into orderly braids, even as its abundance spills down her sides. I've darkened the surrounding features in the portal, so you can appreciate how ornate she is, and how regal. Like the Belle Verriere Mary, but on a much smaller scale, ranked among lesser powers. She carries a book, presumably of law, and that's in deliberate contrast, I think, the the Madonna, who holds the Living New Law.



The Labyrinth

I just wanted to finish out with an image of the famed labyrinth of Chartres. It was designed, among other things, as a way that those who couldn't go on physical pilgrimage could do so symbolically (meditatively) within the Church. Perhaps those who were pilgrims from afar did this walk, too. It fits wonderfully with the nature of Mary put forward thematically at Chartres, where she progresses through different stages of virtue, and yet ends up centered.

3 comentarios


It is very intresting wehn you compare the color and black and white versions of the Notre Dame de la Belle-Verriere. You really get an appreciation of the artistry that went into creating it.

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Carolyn Whitson
Carolyn Whitson
16 mar 2021

Thank you for the kind words, Jennifer! I have more images from Chartres to discuss, but I'm saving them for another post. The sculptures are evocative, too.

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One of my very favorite places. Thank you for these gorgeous photos!

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