Podtours

April 27, 2009

A baby sister for Chartres cathedral

We didn’t mean to find a cathedral. We were only looking for an ATM.  Jacques had run out of money, and we needed a bank.

But as we drove into Gallardon we realised we had found rather more than just a branch of Credit Agricole. A fine Gothic choir and a marvellously high spire, and a strange, huge, relic of upthrust wall crowning the hill, gave this town a striking silhouette against the low spring sun.

As soon as we saw the apse of the cathedral I knew where I’d seen it before. The flying buttresses, simple buttresses like semi-circles drawn with a child’s compass; the simple, wide lancet windows, without tracery; it was exactly like Chartres cathedral.

The silhouette of the church is as striking as that of the town. The choir is gloriously high; the spire, at its north west corner, soars up to heaven. But the whole thing seems to be cut short. Then you realise the nave is there, after all, but it’s so low its roofline is hardly visible above the houses of the town.

We went in, of course; after all, the church was next to the bank.

Even with that hint of Chartres cathedral I wasn’t prepared for what I saw inside. Beyond the long, wide, rather low nave, steps led up towards the glowing light of the choir; the bleached white of fine, porous limestone. It was like a path of revelation; through darkness to light. I had to raise my head to look at the choir; the whole church is laid out on the slope of the hill,  rising and rising again towards the east. It is an amazing place.

Of course, the effect would have been rather different had any of the original stained glass been left in the choir windows. The clear glass floods the apse; it was almost as if the light had become tangible, so strong did it seem.

And a baby sister for Chartres? Well believe it or not, I was right.  It was built around the same time, and even the stone used to build the choir may have come from the same quarry, according to a note in the church.

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