I planned my trip to Chartres weeks ahead of time, making sure that we went on Friday which is the only day the labyrinth is open for the public to walk. I had walked a Labyrinth before but never the great Labyrinth of Chartres. We arrived in Chartres, which is about 50 miles outside of Paris or 80 kilometres.
The medieval cathedral of Chartres is considered one of greatest gothic designs known to man. This area was once the sacred oak grove of the Carnutes, an ancient Celtic tribe of the Iron Age. This was a sacred place for the Carnutes to visit once a year. They would gather for ceremony and tribal business.
They worshiped the Goddess in the form Virgo Paritura in a grotto next to a sacred well. This aspect of the Goddess was a Virgin giving birth to a child. The Catholic Church went as far as claiming that the Virgin Mary was worshipped at Chartres before the birth of Christ. The Carnute’s grotto had a rock that was in the shape of the Mother Goddess vulva. The Crypt was built over the grotto. The sacred well is now called The Well of Saint Forts. Notre Dame Sous Terre, Our Lady of the Underground is now the Virgin of Chartres Crypt. The original statue was burned in front of Chartres during the French Revolation in December of 1793. It was later replaced with a 19th century statue when the Crypt was restored in 1976. This statue is said to be close to the original that was burnt.
During the 13th century Chartres was once a great pilgrimage. It could be compared to what Lourdes is today. The crypt at that time was used like a hospital for the sick pilgrims.
Chartres has been referred to as the (Visible Soul). Even though Chartres had been burned six different times and rebuilt in its history, it is still the home of some of the medieval rare treasures.
The icon sculptures that are part of the structure of the outside of cathedral were built by Master Masons. But there is no recorded information of who were the Chartres architects or the artists that crafted the cathedral. But we do know that the Gothic Style of cathedral building came into being around 1130. St Bernard of Clairvaux was the inspiration of the Knight Templars who were the Master Masons of the time. St. Bernard was devoted to the Black Virgin and he was also known to have visions of Our Lady. His experiences could have been the inspiration of creating cathedral building dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Many of the Knights Templar Masons were influenced during the Crusades to the Holy Land. Islamic Art, Science, Astrology had inspired the Templars, and this was one of the influences of the cathedral building at the time.
The front door of Chartres is known as the Royal Portal because this was the way the Kings and Queens would enter the church. The sculptures consist of the Ascension of Christ into Heaven, the assembly of Apostles, Saints and images of royality. Each door of Chartres is filled with images and symbolism. One could spend days just studying these images. I would suggest to buy a “ Chartres Guide of the Cathedral “ in the churche’s gift store. This would be a good investment to understand the different imageries that Chartres offers.
Chartres stain glass windows are considered some the most beautiful windows of their time period. They were known as Alchemical Glass, since the secret of making the blue hues of this stain glass was unknown. This blue color is called Violet-le-duc or Chartres Blue. But now we know that the artist used a sodium compound in their glass making. The stain glass windows of Chartres tell the stories of Christ Childhood, the Last Judgment, the lives of Saints and heroes. The Zodiac window contains the twelve astrological signs but also contain the way of life of the people of the medieval time period.
It is an interesting architectural note that the Rose Window and the Labyrinth are both 40 feet in diameter. The Rose Windows symbolic meaning is the womb of the Virgin Mary, while the Labyrinth is the womb of the Black Virgin, or Earth Goddess.
There is a stain glass window of Saint Anne. This window is the oldest Black Madonna of Chartres. The window of Saint Anne was a gift from Saint Louie, King of France, given in the 12th century. The ancient worship of the crone aspect of the pagan Goddess resurfaced in Christianity and became the cult of Saint Anne during this time period.
Notre Dame du Pilier, Our Lady of the Pillar, is another Black Virgin found in the nave of the cathedral. She is made of pear wood and is dressed in royal robes of white and gold. She stands on a pillar holding the Christ Child. This beautiful icon is well worth sitting with in meditations to experience the power that the Black Virgins can contain.
She was donated to Chartres after the French Revolution so she would not be considered one of the older Icons of the church, but her presence does command respect.
One of Chartres most sacred relics is the Chainze of the Virgin. This relic is considered to be the tunic of Mary. She wore this tunic while birthing the Christ child. The tunic was donated to the cathedral in the year of 876 and came from the Holy Land. This Holy Relic had been used to bless the queens of France to ease the labors of childbirth. During one of the fires of Chartres it was believed to be lost in the flames, but was miraculously saved and found three days later. This was seen as a miracle to the town’s people and the reconstruction plans for the cathedral began with a new hope and vigor.
One of the most important reasons for me to come to Chartres was to walk the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth of Chartres has eleven circuits and was built around 1200. There were also other Labyrinths in Gothic cathedrals in Reims and Amiens but these Labyrinths were destroyed because they were no longer understood. The Labyrinth of Chartres is made of white stone and black marble. There was once a copper plaque at its center but it was removed and melted down during the French Revolution.
The Gothic Labyrinth was once called “ Chemin de Jerusalem”, the Road to Jerusalem and was used as substitute as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The Labyrinth origins came from the Cretan palace of Minos. It was connected to the Minotaur, the Cretan Moon bull. The Labyrinth designs have been found on caves, coins and tombs and is symbolic of death and rebirth.
The serpentine path of the Labyrinth spirals into its own center. One of the deeper meanings of the mystical initiations of the Labyrinth is that all our different experiences of our life can be used to bring us to the center of our soul; this is the purpose of all true pilgrimages.
When I arrived at Chartres Labyrinth I stood outside watching all the different types of people that were walking the Labyrinth. It was like seeing a slice of humanity before my eyes.
Some people were snapping pictures with their cameras, unaware of the people walking in silence before them. They approached the sacred without awareness or respect. Others people were making their best efforts to have their experience. Some walked slow, others hurried though the experience moving on to the next site on their on their guide book.
The question arose in me how are you going to approach the Labyrinth or maybe the greater question how am I going to approach life? I decided to enter the labyrinth with the name of Christ in my mind. This could keep me focused with every step I walked. I entered the Labyrinth and I realized I had to interact with others who also were walking the Labyrinth. The question arose how I am I going to walk? Did I show politeness to those slower than me? Was I patient and kind as I passed or moved through the crowd? It became the dance of life, the dance of humanity … we were all on this path together. I kept my inner focus on my mantra but my outer focus was to walk slowly and moving through the crowd with awareness and also kindness.
I began to notice that in the center of the maze there were sometimes three or four people at once, taking their time of standing in the center before making their way back on the same path they had entered.
My inner focus was on the mantra. The mantra became intense with each step, as I came closer to the center of the Labyrinth. I arrived at the center and to my amazement I was the only one there. No one was behind me or in front of me. I was alone in the center. My heart expanded and I could feel the power of the magnetic energy that spiraled on the floor, bringing me to the center of my heart the seat of my soul. The energy raised up though the stones into my feet and though the central channel of my body. My prayers and my spirit also rose, it felt like my spirit was flying. I was in communion with the Divine and I was plugged into the current of the Labyrinth that moved though me like the electrical energy in a light socket. There were waves of bliss and deep thanksgiving within me. Gratitude for the breath of life and the opportunity of being alive. I took my moment and I allowed myself to pray for all those I loved, and all those I had ever known. The inner door of the experience began to close as soon as the next person stepped into the center. I smiled and walked out the same way I had entered – in joyous celebration.