I’ve only been to Chartres cathedral once, but when I walked through that big solid west door under the famous rose window, I knew I was feeling something different than I ever felt in a large church before—something at a deep soul level. My heart seemed to calm and race at the same time.
I was “lapis lazulied” by the blues. I was “rubied” by the reds. I hadn’t read much about Chartres, so I wasn’t pre-programmed to expect anything unusual; but it just overwhelmed me. I stood there gazing up at the color of the windows, at the myriad of shapes, their stories and symbols, at the arching space itself that pulled me past the labyrinth to the altar and I knew I HAD, simply HAD to go back to Boston and read everything possible about this place. I felt as people must feel when they can’t make out the letters in a book, that I had to teach myself to read this stone book. For some reason I could not explain, I felt I had to know—from a head perspective, how to interpret what my heart was feeling. This forest of columns was calling me (back?) to something I had no conscious words for.
Later, I immersed myself in everything Chartres from building an exact replica of the 42 foot wide circle labyrinth in our meadow, to constructing an elaborately detailed paper cathedral, (as I glued, I asked, “What are you trying to teach me?”) I watched documentaries made about Chartres, read every book I could lay my hands on that explained the windows, the statues, the architecture, the plan, the workers who, after the great fire that destroyed all but the west wall in 1194, rebuilt it in only about 30 years. For over a decade, I have been writing and rewriting a historical novel about Chartres. What drives passion like this? Being first in the place did it for me. Had I not actually been in it, it would have remained as abstract as any other place I knew existed. I was changed, perhaps, because I was baptized by its light.
I learned that the site for this amazing place was important to early Celts, and perhaps even earlier to the people who raised the stone across Brittany, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Some say seven streams cross below the crypt of this sacred place; it drew early druidic scholars to a university located in the exact spot of the cathedral. Placed at a holy well near a standing “Mother stone” was a small statue of a black “Madonna and child” (perhaps of Isis and Horus) even before Christ was born, even before the Romans came to this place to destroy sacred oak groves and bring the Gauls to their knees. When the Romans got there they read an inscription on the statue about the virgin and child that was to come. It’s still there. So prophesy was embedded in this place, along with mystery and sacred learning.
I’ve come to believe initiated builders marked out where European gothic cathedrals were to be built—and in the 12th and 13th centuries, they sprang up like hundreds of mushrooms in a few short years. Forms create effects—but someone has to know how to build those forms in the first place, and that was the job of the templar monks—the Companions—“spiritual scientists” who had esoteric knowledge of how to construct buildings of code. Rudolf Steiner has said, “It was their purpose to see that whoever entered such a House of God was to receive quite definite soul impressions.” Fortunately, this House survived not only several serious fires, but invading Viking hordes and later two world wars. A piece of cloth called Mary’s tunic or veil remains there—a silk wrap carbon dated to Syria, during the time she would have lived…the first century. It has protected the church, many say. Can “relics” actually heal and protect or is the mind of each person grasping that idea what sends out love, healing and protection?
What really happens when something so powerful gets built, protected, honored and overlayed for centuries with incense, prayer, music? People claim that, unlike most cathedrals, because no one is buried at Chartres, it has remained since the first century, a place of creativity and birth. People claim many things about Chartres. I only know for sure what I know. I am now a part of Chartres and Chartres is a part of me.