Chartres cathedral and the Templars


Undoubtedly the Templars were awed and inspired by the huge religious building projects of their days, such as Chartres Cathedral. But did they initiate, lead and/or support that build as is suggested in some literature? The facts. 

According to the Cartulaires, the Templars of Chartres settled in Chartres before 1183 and remained there till their demise in 1307. The Templars' house was adjacent to the Hospitallers' house, also in the Muret, at the exact spot where the former Carmelite chapel, now the Court of Assizes, stands today. (This was, TN) ... located near rue des Vasseleurs (or des Lices), near the Saint-Jean-en-Vallée gate in the east of Chartres. This site is only a few hunderd metres east of Chartres Cathedral as can be seen on the illustration below. In the 14th century, as soon as the Temple's property was joined to the Hospitallers' property, and until the 17th century, the Hospitallers made the former Templar house the residence of the Commanders, without building or improving it. (1)

At present no trace remains of Chartres' Templar or Hospitaller house. The Carmelite convent has become the prison and their chapel the Court of Assizes. The community of the nuns of Saint-Paul de Chartres occupies the site of the Jacobin convent and also part of the Carmelite gardens. The 'Salette' of St John of Jerusalem with its coat of arms has disappeared without a trace; but its location is well indicated in the 1750 map of Chartres, at the chevet of the former chapel of the Carmelites, on the left side of the corner of the rue des Jacobins. (1)

Considering the historical locations of the Templar house at Chartres, the Templars must have been close witnesses of (re)building of the cathedral in their town at a site only a few hundred metres to the west of their House. This (re)building took several phases. 

The earlier (1st) cathedral built by Fulbert between 1020 and 1134 (which itself was founded on earlier churches and a holy site), was damaged but not destroyed by the 1134 town fire. The rebuilding was mainly undertaken between 1134 and 1165 and resulted in the 2nd cathedral. After another big fire in 1194, rebuilding of this 2nd catherdral was undertaken, which took till 1260 and resulted in the 3rd cathedral. In all phases olders parts were retained or altered, and new parts added.

Therefore, it seems certain that the 12th and 13th century Templars of Chartres knew of the (re)building of the 2nd (building period 1134-1165) and 3rd (building period 1194-1260) cathedral in their town, of the Chartres bishop had the lead. It cannot be excluded that the Templars contributed in one way or the other, as did most nobility, clergy, orders and lay people of those days, for the salvation of their souls.

However, in the second half of the 12th and all of the 13th century the Christian Orient was under huge pressure, especially after Jerusalem was lost to Saladin in 1187. Because of that, all Templar focus at the end of the 12th and all of the 13th century (which coincides roughly with the period of (re)building the 3rd cathedral of Chartres) must have been on their main task: retaining the rest of the Christian Holy Land. Nevertheless, in May 1291 Acre, the last major stronghold in the Orient, was lost also. Only 16 years before Friday, October 13, 1307, when scores of French Templars were simultaneously arrested by agents of King Philip, which was at least partly the result of their percieved failures in the Holy Land.

In summary, reason suggests that in most of the 12th and all of the13th century most if not all Templar focus was on their primary raison d'être: retaining the Holy Land for Christanity, and not on cathedrals in France. At the same time the Chartres Templars must have been aware of the subsequent cathedral building projects in their town, and may have contributed in one way or the other as did all of the population of those days.

(1) quotes translated by TN from Illustration Chartres Cathedrale by night, own work of Kreatinst, source Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

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