Walking the labyrinth

Chartres Travel Blog

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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.

Wonderful Chartres
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 Chartres.
We 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 inside Chartres. We would enjoy the acoustics and honour them with all the old religious songs we knew.

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.
The labyrinth we walked
For decades, ages, they have come here. And now I was one of them.

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.
The shape of the labyrinth
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.

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...

Eric says:
Looks amazing! Thanks for the beautiful description.
Posted on: Jan 27, 2007
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Wonderful Chartres
Wonderful Chartres
The labyrinth we walked
The labyrinth we walked
The shape of the labyrinth
The shape of the labyrinth
61 km (38 miles) traveled
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photo by: Pearl510