Soaring majestically above the city of Chartres and the surrounding fields, la cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres is one of the most important in France. Its significance is not only due to its massive size, but also due to the fact that it is considered the most complete and representative of Gothic-style cathedrals.
Except for the façade and a few other details, the structure we see today was largely erected within a 26-year period, beginning in 1194 after a fire destroyed most of the previous structure.
Thus, unlike other cathedrals, which are often a patchwork of different Gothic periods constructed over several centuries, the Cathedral of Chartres mostly conforms to a single Gothic style that has survived nearly intact since its construction, including almost all of its original 13th century stained glass windows. Its significance led the UNESCO to inscribe it to the list of World Heritage Sites in 1979.
In recent years, the Cathedral has been undergoing a slow restoration and cleaning process to bring it to its former glory, work that is yet to be completed.
Measuring 130 metres in length, 46 metres in width, and 37 metres in height, the interior of la Cathédrale de Chartres ranks among the largest cathedrals in France, even larger than la Notre-Dame de Paris.
Although the foundation, crypt and floor plan belonged to its Romanesque predecessor (built between 1020 and 1037), the interior mostly conforms to a single high-Gothic style completed within 26 years beginning in 1194, and has since survived largely intact.
However, this did not prevent a few subsequent changes from adding later Gothic styles, among them are Chapelle Saint-Piat and its Gothic entrance (1325), la Chapelle Vendôme (1417), the organ (1325, modifed in 1475 and 1542), the intricately carved rood screen around the choir (1514 onwards), and the jube wall (1757).
In addition to its singular style and excellent state of preservation, the interior is celebrated for several architectural marvels. Foremost are its stunning 176 stained glass windows, most of which are 13th century originals.
Other items include the 13th century floor Labyrinth, which pilgrims conducted on their knees, the breathtaking rood screen designed by Jehan de Beauce, the Romanesque crypt (open only twice daily via a guided tour), the statue of Notre-Dame du Pilier (1540), and of course the treasure containing the Sancta Camisia (not open to the public).
The interior of the cathedral was one of the darkest I have visited (more so because of the foggy weather), which made photography rather difficult, but it is left deliberately dim to allow its stunning windows to glow, particularly on sunny days.
Years of candle-burning have also blackened the walls and ceiling, which are slowing being restored to their original white colour, as seen in the apse and the inner western façade.