Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chartres Cathedral: a pilgrimage begins

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

« Un vaisseau de pierre et de lumières sur l’océan des blés. » Charles Peguy's description of Chartres Cathedral captures the moving experience of catching sight of it above the wheat fields from afar, a sign of strength, community, artistic outpouring, and faith, at once ethereal and solid. I was surprised by the emotions that arose when we first caught sight of the cathedral from the highway. When we entered the town of Chartres and arrived on foot before the massive facade, I was overcome with feeling once again - perhaps because of its great beauty, or the sheer scale of it, or the amazement of coming upon it after weeks of anticipation, or the subconscious knowledge of countless lives over hundreds of years that had worked to build and preserve this sanctuary. How to describe such a place, where human works and divine mystery meet in stone? I won't even try.

My husband and I were deeply thankful that our children are now at an age when they can reflect on and appreciate the history of places like Chartres. I related to them the story / legend of the holy relic kept within, the Sancta Camisia believed to have been a garment of the Virgin Mary, which was a sign of hope for the townspeople for centuries and which survived a devastating fire. I tried to point out details in the stained glass and stonework and asked them to think of the craftsmen who took such care over them, some never to see the final outcome of their labor, some losing their lives in the process. We climbed up 289 steps of one of the towers to marvel (and tremble) over the view from the windy heights above the green-tinged copper roof. All in all a visit that reminded us of the true meaning of the word awe.


We are on pilgrimage, mostly for my sake. Last July I wrote about our visit to the place where my favorite saint, René Goupil, was martyred. For a long time I've also wanted to visit his place of birth. Our visit to Chartres was part of our way down to the Anjou region, to the villages around Saint Martin du Bois, his home town. We found a gorgeous bed and breakfast, the Chateau du Plessis, in La Jaille-Yvon, where a talented woman named Valérie Renoul welcomed us tonight and served us a fabulous table d'hôte of prosciutto and stuffed grape leaves, filet mignon with a mild sauce of green olives and onions, and a grand marnier chocolate mousse that rivaled any 5-star restaurant dessert. Sixteen of us fit around the dinner table! Tomorrow, Assumption Day, we begin our "search for Saint René" in earnest.

We found out tonight that Valerie's husband, Laurent, happens to own a chateau property that abuts Le Grand Oncheray, the farm where René Goupil was born. A nice coincidence.

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