The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres is located 50 miles southwest of Paris and easily accessible by train. I went on a weekday in March 2012 and the church was not that crowded, a few busloads of tourists and certainly not as jammed as Notre Dame. It is a Latin Rite Catholic cathedral and is in French High Gothic style, mostly constructed between 1193 and 1250 (by comparison Notre Dame was started in 1163). What struck me was how old the outside looked in comparison to Notre Dame; the statues look old because they are old as most are original. Unlike many churches, it was not damaged by the Wars of Religion (1524 to 1648) and French Revolution. Chartres is exceptional based on its state of preservation.
For some reason, the location was plagued by fire; by my count, there were 4 fires that destroyed previous cathedrals on this site before the current cathedral was built. The stained glass windows are amazing and generally original, covering 26,910 square feet, with most dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. All the glass from the cathedral was removed in 1939 just before the Germans invaded France. See Wikipedia, Sacred Destinations, Mapping Gothic France for more detail. The latter source has 360 panoramas and laserscan images of the cathedral.
The church survived two death sentences. The first was during the French Revolution when the Revolutionary Committee decided to destroy it using explosives. However, the architect in charge of destroying the church convinced the Committee otherwise because of the congestion that all of the ruble would create by clogging streets. The second threat was an Allied order to destroy the church during World War II; the Allies believed that the Germans were using the church as an observation post and gave an order to take it out with artillery. Jay Nordlinger and the Military Times tell the dramatic story of how Colonel Welborn Barton Griffith, Jr. went behind enemy lines to confirm that the Germans were not using the church. Based on this information, the order to shell the church was lifted. Griffith was later killed in action near Chartres.
churchcathedralphotoChartresLady of ChartresKent Beckernot my day job photographyFrance