Chartres Cathedral

Z1652959 12/4/11 Word Count- 744 Figure 65 from Branner

This photo is from http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/chartressouth/cportal.html

Chartres Cathedral is one of the best examples of gothic architecture in existence today. Located in Chartres, France the Cathedral is one of the oldest gothic works and many later buildings were modeled off of its architecture. For this reason it has become an important building for medievalists to study. While Chartres Cathedral is well known for its stained glass, the architecture around it has also fascinated medievalists. For this essay we will be examining the south transept, central portal, tympanum and its significance to medievalists.1 The tympanum of the southern transept is divided into two sections. On the top is Jesus with the Virgin Mary on His right and St. John on His left.2 Beside both Mary and St. John are

angels, which can be made out by their distinctive wings. One appears to be holding a column which Jesus was tied to while whipped and the other a spear which was used to stab Jesus while He hung on the cross. Above Jesus are two angels holding a cross.3 The entire top section portrays the return and reign of Jesus. On the bottom section is the depiction of Judgment. From the view of the observer, those who are accepted into heaven go to the left while those who are damned go to the right. This can be seen in the difference in posture, those who are going to heaven have their heads up and seem joyful while those who are damned have their heads bowed slightly and look frightened. In the right hand corner demons are throwing people into what appears to be a large mouth while faces are looking out of the mouth in agony and trying to escape. In the middle is the archangel Michael who weighs the souls of the dead and determines

1 2

Robert Branner, Chartres Cathedral (New York: Norton, 1996) Robert Branner, Chartres Cathedral (New York: Norton, 1996), 202 3 "Images of South Transept, Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France--page 1. ." Bluffton University. http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/chartressouth/cportal.html (accessed December 4, 2011). 1

if they are to be allowed into heaven and above the people are angels guiding them to their eternal reward or punishment.2 The entire transept was built between 1205 and 1240.3 Today the sculpture appears in good condition and does not appear to be damaged in any way. The artists who worked on this did an excellent job of portraying a scene of the apocalypse. Branner states that, “medieval imaginations were stirred much more readily by the task of representing the powers of evil than those of good… scenes of damnation are depicted with a fervor and power born of conviction, whereas the scenes of beatitude are presented in a perfunctory and conventional way”4 By this he means that the depictions of demons and hell are done more detailed than the depictions of heaven. This could be because of a genuine fear of going to hell or because they want others to be afraid and therefore entice them to be virtuous to avoid the scene they depict. The placement of the sculpture is fitting when comparing to the other sculptures of the cathedral. To the north are sculptures which focus on the Old Testament and so it is not surprising that on the other side of the cathedral is the New Testament.5 On one side of the Cathedral medieval people would view sculptures in reverence and remembrance while on the other they would see what they believed to be future events and would feel fear but also hope. Many people may have gone to meditate on the sculptures as inspirations for doing good. Today it can tell medievalists many things. One such thing is the influence of the Virgin Mary at the time. Chartres is named after Mary as Cathedral Notre Dame de Chartres or Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres. In the sculpture Mary is depicted at the right hand of Jesus. That hand is said to be signifying of mercy which may tie Mary being there to the cult of the Virgin of which
4 5

Robert Branner, Chartres Cathedral (New York: Norton, 1996), 203 Robert Branner, Chartres Cathedral (New York: Norton, 1996), 197-202 2

mercy was its main philosophy.6 It also shows what medieval people believed such as the existence of hell at all. Today many churches say that hell does not exist but that the punishment of sin is to be disconnected from Gods love. In the sculpture a fire and brimstone hell is depicted showing that the people of the time believed it to be an actual place. Notre Dame de Chartres is a magnificent work capable of providing biblical satisfaction as well as insight into the people of the time. The gothic architecture is some of the best in existence today and some of the most important due to its antiquity.

6

Branner, Chartres Cathedral, 203 3

Bibliography

1. Branner, Robert. Chartres Cathedral. Norton pbk. ed. New York: Norton, 1996. 2. Branner, Robert. Chartres Cathedral. Norton pbk. ed. New York: Norton, 1996. 202.

3. "Images of South Transept, Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France--page 1. ." Bluffton University. http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/chartressouth/cportal.html (accessed December 4, 2011). 4. Branner, Robert. Chartres Cathedral. Norton pbk. ed. New York: Norton, 1996. 203. 5. Branner, Robert. Chartres Cathedral. Norton pbk. ed. New York: Norton, 1996. 197202. 6. Branner, Robert. Chartres Cathedral. Norton pbk. ed. New York: Norton, 1996. 203.

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