Chartres' gothic Cathedral - a product of knowledge, cooperation and devotion

After the 1194 fire that all but detroyed Chartres Cathedral completely, Bishop Renaud de Mousson (also known as Reginald of Bar, installed as Bishop in 1182, died 1212), via his mother Adèle de Champagne first cousin of king Philippe Auguste of France, decided to undertake an exceptional rebuilding project using the new techniques of the time - Chartres cathedral was to become one of the first great Gothic cathedrals. 

The Bishop was surrounded by the chapter of canons, clerics responsible for carrying out the liturgy of the cathedral, who at Chartres numbered some seventy-two. They jointly invested their wealth, acquired from their vineyards and cereal crops grown on the Beauce Plain, in this imposing project.

These men were also scholars. As a result of their study of the Scriptures, reading the writings of the fathers of the Church, attending daily liturgical readings and extensive travel, these were very learned men who as a result constructed an extremely complex iconographic programme. Chartres had already been a very active centre of pilgrimage for many centuries. The images in the stained-glass windows were for the consumption of these crowds of pilgrims as well as local Christians, who gazed at these the bright images of their faith in the walls of the building and also donated money to help fund the work. 

At the time of the 1194 fire, a legate of the Pope happened to be in Chartres and he spread the word. Funds were collected from royal and noble patrons across Europe, as well as small donations from ordinary people. Reconstruction began almost immediately. Some portions of the building had survived, including the two towers and the royal portal on the west end, and these were incorporated into the new cathedral.

The plan, like other Gothic cathedrals, is in the form of a cross and was determined by the shape and size of the 11th-century Romanesque cathedral, whose crypt and vestiges are underneath it. (...) While the floor plan was traditional, the elevation was bolder and more original, thanks to the use of the flying buttresses to support the upper walls. This was the first known use in a Gothic cathedral.

Since the church was the hub of society, representing nothing less than a vision of heaven on Earth, this shift in architectural style was not undertaken lightly or out of a desire for mere novelty. It marked a profound change in the social, intellectual and theological climate of Western Christendom. And it posed enormous challenges to the master builders and masons who constructed the cathedrals, who had to make these vast masses of stone seem airy and weightless.

In the book Universe of Stone: Chartres Cathedral and the Invention of the Gothic, Philip Ball traces the reasons for the inception of the Gothic style. He argues that it signifies a new way of looking at God, the universe, and humankind's relationship to them. Informed by an influx of texts from the ancient world, philosophers began to question old certainties about God's power and plan. This was the beginning of the argument between faith and reason – which has never ended. The Gothic era saw the birth of a scientific view of the world, ultimately threatening to dispense with God altogether. 

This blog is based on information from,,,,, and, all consulted in January 2023. The illustration shows King Dagobert visiting the construction site of Saint-Denis. In the 12th century, the Abbot Suger (ca 1081 – 13 January 1151)  rebuilt portions of the older abbey church using innovative structural and decorative features. In doing so, he is said to have created the first truly Gothic building. Source "Les Grandes Chroniques de France". 15th century, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits Français 2609, Grandes Chroniques de France, folio 60 v°. RCB 10089 (Public Domain), source Wikipedia

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