Chartres is famous. World famous. It is one
of the most exceptional cathedrals ever build. It hides a thousand of mysteries,
legends and unravelled secrets. It shows the most beautiful architecture,
statues and craftwork. It has supreme acoustics. It is pure magic.
The first time I saw it's towers rising up on the horizon, was when our bus
stopped in the middle of flowery fields. Yellow blossoms waved in the wind and
far, far from us laid our destiny: Chartres.
The last 20 kilometres
we walked, with no map neither directions. We just looked at the cathedral and
made our way through the peaceful France land.
Soon thunder came up,
so we rushed our way to town. Our group was divided in little groups. Some of
them fell behind, some of them ran fast as the wind. We arrived third at the
foot of the hill on which the cathedral is build, tiered we were as we looked
up to the towers and carried on.
Reaching the gate was a relieve. Though our walk was hideously short, I felt
like a pilgrim, that finally had reached her goal. At that point, Chartres didn't mean
much to me. No more than any other cathedral, except that it had cost me
blisters to see it. What I also saw, was an endless view over the city and the
fields behind it. The fields we knew so well.
Each day started with singing. In my high school (a liberal, not even a
religious one) choral singing was part of the curriculum. And so was a visit to
sang all kinds of songs, modern and old, but all with for voices. I was an
alto. During the first days we sang in our hostel and on the square in front of
the cathedral, because during the last evening of our stay, we would sing
We would enjoy the acoustics and honour them with all the old religious songs
After singing we were taught the mysteries Chartres architecture hides, and the
religious secrets it reveals. Each day we studied another outer wing. From east
to west we went and we made drawings of the statues and wrote impressions of
the crafts. We also took time to see the inside. Each day we went back and each
day we learned more. We discovered and waited until we could feel how special this
place is and has been for many travellers and pilgrims.
For decades, ages, they
have come here. And now I was one of them.
The labyrinth we walked
I had visited many cathedrals in my life before. Many churches and chapels. But
I never took time to get to know them. I'm not a Christian, but I have deep
respect for those buildings. I like to see them and learn more about them. In Chartres we took the time
to meet them. At the end of the week, I felt like I was almost a part of it. I
knew the stories in the coloured church windows, I had seen the panorama from
upon the towers, I had seen the Christians and pilgrims pray to the black Madonna,
I recognized the smell of the air floating around. It is impossible to describe
what this trip meant to me. It didn't 'convert' me, but it sure hit me bad. It
blew me away.
On the last day of our stay, as promised, we sang.
It sounded magnificent, but
it felt even better. When the night fell and the sun started to lower on the
sky, the cathedral closed and we were granted entrance all on our own. We
started in the underground chapel, with no light but candles. Every one of us
held one. Every one of us shone a light through the darkness as we walked
through the cold corridors up to the cathedral. I must confess I found it a
little scary. The silence and the shades, the mystique feel of an empty
church... Nobody spoke.
The shape of the labyrinth
Then we reached the cathedral. I had never seen such a huge building being
empty. The place was deserted. All the lights were out, except for the
candles which stood there, and the candles we held. The sunset shone through
the windows and made the coloured glass tell us its stories for the last time. Rays
of blue and red light fell on the marble floor. We took the chairs and moved
them aside, so the labyrinth was completely revealed.
For hundreds of years pilgrims
came to Chartres
and when they arrived, they walked this labyrinth as a sort of quest. In order
to find what they were searching for. I came there to search for myself. We
went to stand in line and one by one we walked the labyrinth that so many others
had walked before us. We took our candles to the centre and than placed it by
the others that where already there. To feel that cold ground beneath my bare
feet was a magical moment. Men, women, children of all ages and all times had
done this before me. Millions would do it after I was gone. All with other
intentions, hopes, fears and believes, but all walking the same path. That
thought still comforts me. No religious thing is involved, its not the religion
that made this so special. It's the message.
By the time everyone had finished, it had gone dark and so the cathedral was
shady. We stood together to sing some goodbye songs to the building and ourselves,
and then we left. I haven't returned there since, but ones I will. It won't be
a touristy holiday really. It will be more
like visiting an old friend...