Pre-Templar churches and cathedrals in Chartres

Time and again Chartres Cathedral, France, has been mentioned as one of the major Gothic building projects of the Knights Templar. The facts indicate, however, also many centuries of building, destruction and rebuilding preceeding the Templar epoch.

Chartres Cathedral, also called Notre-Dame d’Chartres (Our Lady of Chartres) is ranked as one of the three chief examples of Gothic French architecture (along with Amiens Cathedral and Reims Cathedral), it is noted not only for its architectural innovations but also for its numerous sculptures and its much-celebrated stained glass. Mostly constructed to its present shape between 1194 and 1220, it stands on the site of at least five churches that have occupied the site since the Diocese of Chartres was formed as an episcopal see in the 4th century. (1)

The first church (the "Aventin Cathedral") dated from no later than 4th century and was located at the base of a Gallo-Roman wall. This church was put to the torch in 743 on the orders of the Duke of Aquitaine. The second church on the site was set on fire by Danish pirates (Vikings) in 858. This was then reconstructed and enlarged by Bishop Gislebert (bishop between 859 and 878), dedicated to the Virgin Mary and consecrated in 876, protected by the Holy Tunica (Sancta Camisa) from another Viking attack in 911, but again destroyed by fire on September 7, 1020. A vestige of this 876 church, now known as Saint Lubin Chapel, remains, underneath the apse of the present cathedral. It took its name from Lubinus (or Leobinus) the mid- 6th-century Bishop of Chartres (bishop from 544 till his death in 557). It is lower than the rest of the crypt and may have been the shrine of a local saint, prior to the church’s rededication to the Virgin Mary. (2) 

After the fire of 1020 bishop Fulbert (960-1028, who became bishop in 1007) began reconstruction. To finance his ambitious scheme, Fulbert requested funds from King Robert II 'the Pious,' the second of the Capetian monarchs. As the chronicle records, the bishop also swore to give over his personal income to the reconstruction of the church. (7)

In 1030 the repaired cathedral was dedicated by Bishop Thierry, successor to Fulbert. In 1134 the Royal Portal was constructed, the construction of the facade was completed towards 1150, and in 1170 the south bell tower had been constructed. (4)

On the night of 10 July 1194, another major fire devastated the cathedral. Only the crypt, the towers, and the new facade survived. The cathedral was already known throughout Europe as a pilgrimage destination, due to the reputed relics of the Virgin Mary that it contained. This relic had been saved from the fire by priests hiding it in the crypt. 

The building works of the second half of the 12th century, and especially those after 1194, coincided with the presence of the Knights Templar in Chartres. They settled in there before 1183 and remained till their demise in 1307. It is hard to envisage that the Templars were unaware of the improvements of the cathedral of their earlier days, and the major rebuilding project that started following the 1194 fire. But major involvement, practically or financially, is improbable, as is argued in another post. And perhaps even unnecessary, because alternative forces were mobilized. 

(to be continued)

Sources: (1), (2), (4), (7); The illustration shows the Sancta Camisa (or the Voile de la Vierge) of the Virgin, picture by Rama (source Wikipedia, Public Domain)

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