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Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams

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aspires to feel the art.

A conscientious student has yet to climb down the many steps, on the
outside, and look up at the Merveille from below. Few buildings in
France are better worth the trouble. The horizontal line at the roof
measures two hundred and thirty-five feet. The vertical line of the
buttresses measures in round numbers one hundred feet. To make walls
of that height and length stand up at all was no easy matter, as
Robert de Torigny had shown; and so the architect buttressed them
from bottom to top with twelve long buttresses against the thrust of
the interior arches, and three more, bearing against the interior
walls. This gives, on the north front, fifteen strong vertical lines
in a space of two hundred and thirty-five feet. Between these lines
the windows tell their story; the seven long windows of the
refectory on one side; the seven rounded windows of the hall on the
other. Even the corner tower with the charter-house becomes as
simple as the rest. The sum of this impossible wall, and its
exaggerated vertical lines, is strength and intelligence at rest.

The whole Mount still kept the grand style; it expressed the unity
of Church and State, God and Man, Peace and War, Life and Death,
Good and Bad; it solved the whole problem of the universe. The
priest and the soldier were both at home here, in 1215 as in 1115 or
in 1058; the politician was not outside of it; the sinner was
welcome; the poet was made happy in his own spirit, with a sympathy,
almost an affection, that suggests a habit of verse in the Abbot as
well as in the architect. God reconciles all. The world is an
evident, obvious, sacred harmony. Even the discord of war is a
detail on which the Abbey refuses to insist. Not till two centuries
afterwards did the Mount take on the modern expression of war as a
discord in God's providence. Then, in the early years of the
fifteenth century, Abbot Pierre le Roy plastered the gate of the
chatelet, as you now see it, over the sunny thirteenth-century
entrance called Belle Chaise, which had treated mere military
construction with a sort of quiet contempt. You will know what a
chatelet is when you meet another; it frowns in a spirit quite alien
to the twelfth century; it jars on the religion of the place; it
forebodes wars of religion; dissolution of society; loss of unity;
the end of a world. Nothing is sadder than the catastrophe of Gothic
art, religion, and hope.

One looks back on it all as a picture; a symbol of unity; an
assertion of God and Man in a bolder, stronger, closer union than
ever was expressed by other art; and when the idea is absorbed,
accepted, and perhaps partially understood, one may move on.



From Mont-Saint-Michel, the architectural road leads across
Normandy, up the Seine to Paris, and not directly through Chartres,
which lies a little to the south. In the empire of architecture,
Normandy was one kingdom, Brittany another; the Ile de France, with
Paris, was a third; Touraine and the valley of the Loire were a
fourth and in the centre, the fighting-ground between them all, lay
the counties of Chartres and Dreux. Before going to Chartres one
should go up the Seine and down the Loire, from Angers to Le Mans,
and so enter Chartres from Brittany after a complete circle; but if
we set out to do our pleasure on that scale, we must start from the
Pyramid of Cheops. We have set out from Mont-Saint-Michel; we will
go next to Paris.

The architectural highway lies through Coutances, Bayeux, Caen,
Rouen, and Mantes. Every great artistic kingdom solved its
architectural problems in its own way, as it did its religious,
political, and social problems, and no two solutions were ever quite
the same; but among them the Norman was commonly the most practical,
and sometimes the most dignified. We can test this rule by the
standard of the first town we stop at--Coutances. We can test it
equally well at Bayeux or Caen, but Coutances comes first after
Mont-Saint-Michel let us begin with it, and state the problems with
their Norman solution, so that it may be ready at hand to compare
with the French solution, before coming to the solution at Chartres.

The cathedral at Coutances is said to be about the age of the
Merveille (1200-50), but the exact dates are unknown, and the work
is so Norman as to stand by itself; yet the architect has grappled
with more problems than one need hope to see solved in any single
church in the tie de France. Even at Chartres, although the two
stone fleches are, by exception, completed, they are not of the same
age, as they are here. Neither at Chartres nor at Paris, nor at Laon
or Amiens or Rheims or Bourges, will you see a central tower to
compare with the enormous pile at Coutances. Indeed the architects
of France failed to solve this particular church problem, and we-
shall leave it behind us in leaving Normandy, although it is the
most effective feature of any possible church. "A clocher of that
period (circa 1200), built over the croisee of a cathedral,
following lines so happy, should be a monument of the greatest
beauty; unfortunately we possess not a single one in France. Fire,
and the hand of man more than time, have destroyed them all, and we
find on our greatest religious edifices no more than bases and
fragments of these beautiful constructions. The cathedral of
Coutances alone has preserved its central clocher of the thirteenth
century, and even there it is not complete; its stone fleche is
wanting. As for its style, it belongs to Norman architecture, and
diverges widely from the character of French architecture." So says
Viollet-le-Duc; but although the great churches for the most part
never had central clochers, which, on the scale of Amiens, Bourges,
or Beauvais, would have required an impossible mass, the smaller
churches frequently carry them still, and they are, like the dome,
the most effective features they can carry. They were made to
dominate the whole.

No doubt the fleche is wanting at Coutances, but you can supply it
in imagination from the two fleches of the western tower, which are
as simple and severe as the spear of a man-at-arms. Supply the
fleche, and the meaning of the tower cannot be mistaken; it is as
military as the "Chanson de Roland"; it is the man-at-arms himself,
mounted and ready for battle, spear in rest. The mere seat of the
central tower astride of the church, so firm, so fixed, so serious,
so defiant, is Norman, like the seat of the Abbey Church on the
Mount; and at Falaise, where William the Bastard was born, we shall
see a central tower on the church which is William himself, in
armour, on horseback, ready to fight for the Church, and perhaps, in
his bad moods, against it. Such militant churches were capable of
forcing Heaven itself; all of them look as though they had fought at
Hastings or stormed Jerusalem. Wherever the Norman central clocher
stands, the Church Militant of the eleventh century survives;--not
the Church of Mary Queen, but of Michael the Archangel;--not the
Church of Christ, but of God the Father--Who never lied!

Taken together with the fleches of the facade, this clocher of
Coutances forms a group such as one very seldom sees. The two towers
of the facade are something apart, quite by themselves among the
innumerable church-towers of the Gothic time. We have got a happy
summer before us, merely in looking for these church-towers. There
is no livelier amusement for fine weather than in hunting them as
though they were mushrooms, and no study in architecture nearly so
delightful. No work of man has life like the fleche. One sees it for
a greater distance and feels it for a longer time than is possible
with any other human structure, unless it be the dome. There is more
play of light on the octagonal faces of the fleche as the sun moves
around them than can be got out of the square or the cone or any
other combination of surfaces. For some reason, the facets of the
hexagon or octagon are more pleasing than the rounded surfaces of
the cone, and Normandy is said to be peculiarly the home of this
particularly Gothic church ornament; yet clochers and fleches are
scattered all over France until one gets to look for them on the
horizon as though every church in every hamlet were an architectural
monument. Hundreds of them literally are so,--Monuments Historiques,
-protected by the Government; but when you undertake to compare
them, or to decide whether they are more beautiful in Normandy than
in the Ile de France, or in Burgundy, or on the Loire or the
Charente, you are lost, Even the superiority of the octagon is not
evident to every one. Over the little church at Fenioux on the
Charente, not very far from La Rochelle, is a conical steeple that
an infidel might adore; and if you have to decide between provinces,
you must reckon with the decision of architects and amateurs, who
seem to be agreed that the first of all filches is at Chartres, the
second at Vendome, not far from Blois in Touraine, and the third at
Auxerre in Burgundy. The towers of Coutances are not in the list,
nor are those at Bayeux nor those at Caen. France is rich in art.
Yet the towers of Coutances are in some ways as interesting, if not
as beautiful, as the best.

The two stone fleches here, with their octagon faces, do not
descend, as in other churches, to their resting-place on a square
tower, with the plan of junction more or less disguised; they throw
out nests of smaller fleches, and these cover buttressing corner
towers, with lines that go directly to the ground. Whether the
artist consciously intended it or not, the effect is to broaden the
facade and lift it into the air. The facade itself has a distinctly
military look, as though a fortress had been altered into a church.
A charming arcade at the top has the air of being thrown across in
order to disguise the alteration, and perhaps owes much of its charm
to the contrast it makes with the severity of military lines. Even
the great west window looks like an afterthought; one's instinct
asks for a blank wall. Yet, from the ground up to the cross on the
spire, one feels the Norman nature throughout, animating the whole,
uniting it all, and crowding into it an intelligent variety of
original motives that would build a dozen churches of late Gothic.
Nothing about it is stereotyped or conventional,--not even the

If you have any doubts about this, you have only to compare the
photograph of Coutances with the photograph of Chartres; and yet,
surely, the facade of Chartres is severe enough to satisfy Saint
Bernard himself. With the later fronts of Rheims and Amiens, there
is no field for comparison; they have next to nothing in common; yet
Coutances is said to be of the same date with Rheims, or nearly so,
and one can believe it when one enters the interior. The Normans, as
they slowly reveal themselves, disclose most unexpected qualities;
one seems to sound subterranean caverns of feeling hidden behind
their iron nasals. No other cathedral in France or in Europe has an
interior more refined--one is tempted to use even the hard-worn
adjective, more tender--or more carefully studied. One test is
crucial here and everywhere. The treatment of the apse and choir is
the architect's severest standard. This is a subject not to be
touched lightly; one to which we shall have to come back in a humble
spirit, prepared for patient study, at Chartres; but the choir of
Coutances is a cousin to that of Chartres, as the facades are
cousins; Coutances like Chartres belongs to Notre Dame and is felt
in the same spirit; the church is built for the choir and apse,
rather than for the nave and transepts; for the Virgin rather than
for the public. In one respect Coutances is even more delicate in
the feminine charm of the Virgin's peculiar grace than Chartres, but
this was an afterthought of the fourteenth century. The system of
chapels radiating about the apse was extended down the nave, in an
arrangement "so beautiful and so rare," according to Viollet-le-Duc,
that one shall seek far before finding its equal. Among the
unexpected revelations of human nature that suddenly astonish
historians, one of the least reasonable was the passionate outbreak
of religious devotion to the ideal of feminine grace, charity, and
love that took place here in Normandy while it was still a part of
the English kingdom, and flamed up into almost fanatical frenzy
among the most hard-hearted and hard-headed race in Europe.

So in this church, in the centre of this arrangement of apse and
chapels with their quite unusual--perhaps quite singular--grace, the
four huge piers which support the enormous central tower, offer a
tour de force almost as exceptional as the refinement of the
chapels. At Mont-Saint-Michel, among the monks, the union of
strength and grace was striking, but at Coutances it is exaggerated,
like Tristram and Iseult,--a roman of chivalry. The four "enormous"
columns of the croisee, carry, as Viollet-le-Duc says, the "enormous
octagonal tower,"--like Saint Christopher supporting the Christ-
child, before the image of the Virgin, in her honour. Nothing like
this can be seen at Chartres, or at any of the later palaces which
France built for the pleasure of the Queen of Heaven. We are
slipping into the thirteenth century again; the temptation is
terrible to feeble minds and tourist natures; but a great mass of
twelfth and eleventh-century work remains to be seen and felt. To go
back is not so easy as to begin with it; the heavy round arch is
like old cognac compared with the champagne of the pointed and
fretted spire; one must not quit Coutances without making an
excursion to Lessayon the road to Cherbourg, where is a church of
the twelfth century, with a square tower and almost untouched Norman
interior, that closely repeats the Abbey Church at Mont-Saint-
Michel. "One of the most complete models of Romanesque architecture
to be found in Normandy," says M. de Caumont. The central clocher
will begin a photographic collection of square towers, to replace
that which was lost on the Mount; and a second example is near
Bayeux, at a small place called Cerisy-la-Foret, where the church
matches that on the Mount, according to M. Corroyer; for Cerisy-la-
Foret was also an abbey, and the church, built by Richard II, Duke
of Normandy, at the beginning of the eleventh century, was larger
than that on the Mount. It still keeps its central tower.

All this is intensely Norman, and is going to help very little in
France; it would be more useful in England; but at Bayeux is a
great: cathedral much more to the purpose, with two superb western
towers crowned by stone fleches, cousins of those at Coutances, and
distinctly related to the twelfth-century fleche at Chartres. "The
Normans," says Viollet-le-Duc, "had not that instinct of proportion
which the architects of the Ile de France, Beauvais, and Soissons
possessed to a high degree; yet the boldness of their constructions,
their perfect execution, the elevation of the fleches, had evident
influence on the French school properly called, and that influence
is felt in the old spire of Chartres." The Norman seemed to show
distinction in another respect which the French were less quick to
imitate. What they began, they completed. Not one of the great
French churches has two stone spires complete, of the same age,
while each of the little towns of Coutances, Bayeux, and Caen
contains its twin towers and fleches of stone, as solid and perfect
now as they were seven hundred years ago. Still another Norman
character is worth noting, because this is one part of the influence
felt at Chartres. If you look carefully at the two western towers of
the Bayeux Cathedral, perhaps you will feel what is said to be the
strength of the way they are built up. They rise from their
foundation with a quiet confidence of line and support, which passes
directly up to the weather-cock on the summit of the fleches. At the
plane where the square tower is changed into the octagon spire, you
will see the corner turrets and the long intermediate windows which
effect the change without disguising it. One can hardly call it a
device; it is so simple and evident a piece of construction that it
does not need to be explained; yet you will have to carry a
photograph of this fleche to Chartres, and from there to Vendome,
for there is to be a great battle of fleches about this point of
junction, and the Norman scheme is a sort of standing reproach to
the French.

Coutances and Bayeux are interesting, but Caen is a Romanesque
Mecca. There William the Conqueror dealt with the same architectural
problems, and put his solution in his Abbaye-aux-Hommes, which bears
the name of Saint Stephen. Queen Matilda put her solution into her
Abbaye-aux-Femmes, the Church of the Trinity. One ought particularly
to look at the beautiful central clocher of the church at Vaucelles
in the suburbs; and one must drive out to Thaon to see its eleventh-
century church, with a charming Romanesque blind arcade on the
outside, and a little clocher, "the more interesting to us,"
according to Viollet-le-Duc, "because it bears the stamp of the
traditions of defence of the primitive towers which were built over
the porches." Even "a sort of chemin de ronde" remains around the
clocher, perhaps once provided with a parapet of defence. "C'est la,
du reste, un charmant edifice." A tower with stone fleche, which
actually served for defence in a famous recorded instance, is that
of the church at Secqueville, not far off; this beautiful tower, as
charming as anything in Norman art, is known to have served as a
fortress in 1105, which gives a valuable date. The pretty old
Romanesque front of the little church at Ouistreham, with its portal
that seems to come fresh from Poitiers and Moissac, can be taken in,
while driving past; but we must on no account fail to make a serious
pilgrimage to Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives, where the church-tower and
fleche are not only classed among the best in Normandy, but have an
exact date, 1145, and a very close relation with Chartres, as will
appear. Finally, if for no other reason, at least for interest in
Arlette, the tanner's daughter, one must go to Falaise, and look at
the superb clocher of Saint-Gervais, which was finished and
consecrated by 1135.

Some day, if you like, we can follow this Romanesque style to the
south, and on even to Italy where it may be supposed to have been
born; but France had an architectural life fully a thousand years
old when these twelfth-century churches were built, and was long
since artistically, as she was politically, independent. The Normans
were new in France, but not the Romanesque architecture; they only
took the forms and stamped on them their own character. It is the
stamp we want to distinguish, in order to trace up our lines of
artistic ancestry. The Norman twelfth-century stamp was not easily
effaced. If we have not seen enough of it at Mont-Saint-Michel,
Coutances, Bayeux, and Caen, we can go to Rouen, and drive out to
Boscherville, and visit the ruined Abbey of Jumieges. Wherever there
is a church-tower with a tall fleche, as at Boscherville,
Secqueville, Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives, Caen, and Bayeux, Viollet-le-
Duc bids notice how the octagonal steeple is fitted on to the square
tower. Always the passage from the octagon to the square seems to be
quite simply made. The Gothic or Romanesque spire had the advantage
that a wooden fleche was as reasonable a covering for it as a stone
one, and the Normans might have indulged in freaks of form very
easily, if they chose, but they seem never to have thought of it.
The nearest approach to the freedom of wooden roofs is not in the
lofty fleches, but in the covering of the great square central
towers, like Falaise or Vaucelles, a huge four-sided roof which
tries to be a fleche, and is as massive as the heavy structure it

The last of the Norman towers that Viollet-le-Duc insists upon is
the so-called Clocher de Saint-Romain, the northern tower on the
west front of the Cathedral of Rouen. Unfortunately it has lost its
primitive octagon fleche if it ever had one, but "the tower remains
entire, and," according to Viollet-le-Duc, "is certainly one of the
most beautiful in this part of France; it offers a mixture of the
two styles of the Ile de France and of Normandy, in which the former
element dominates"; it is of the same date as the old tower of
Chartres (1140-60), and follows the same interior arrangement; "but
here the petty, confused disposition of the Norman towers, with
their division into stories of equal height, has been adopted by the
French master builder, although in submitting to these local customs
he has still thrown over his work the grace and finesse, the study
of detail, the sobriety in projections, the perfect harmony between
the profiles, sculpture, and the general effect of the whole, which
belong to the school he came from. He has managed his voids and
solids with especial cleverness, giving the more importance to the
voids, and enlarging the scale of his details, as the tower rose in
height. These details have great beauty; the construction is
executed in materials of small dimensions with the care that the
twelfth-century architects put into their building; the profiles
project little, and, in spite of their extreme finesse, produce much
effect; the buttresses are skilfully planted and profiled. The
staircase, which, on the east side, deranges the arrangement of the
bays, is a chef-d'oeuvre of architecture." This long panegyric, by
Viollet-le-Duc, on French taste at the expense of Norman temper,
ought to be read, book in hand, before the Cathedral of Rouen, with
photographs of Bayeux to compare. Certain it is that the Normans and
the French never talked quite the same language, but it is equally
certain that the Norman language, to the English ear, expressed
itself quite as clearly as the French, and sometimes seemed to have
more to express.

The complaint of the French artist against the Norman is the
"mesquin" treatment of dividing his tower into storeys of equal
height. Even in the twelfth century and in religious architecture,
artists already struggled over the best solution of this
particularly American problem of the twentieth century, and when
tourists return to New York, they may look at the twenty-storey
towers which decorate the city, to see whether the Norman or the
French plan has won; but this, at least, will be sure in advance:--
the Norman will be the practical scheme which states the facts, and
stops; while the French will be the graceful one, which states the
beauties, and more or less fits the facts to suit them. Both styles
are great: both can sometimes be tiresome.

Here we must take leave of Normandy; a small place, but one which,
like Attica or Tuscany, has said a great deal to the world, and even
goes on saying things--not often in the famous genre ennuyeux--to
this day; for Gustave Flaubert's style is singularly like that of
the Tour Saint-Romain and the Abbaye-aux-Hommes. Going up the Seine
one might read a few pages of his letters, or of "Madame de Bovary,"
to see how an old art transmutes itself into a new one, without
changing its methods. Some critics have thought that at times
Flaubert was mesquin like the Norman tower, but these are, as the
French say, the defects of his qualities; we can pass over them, and
let our eyes rest on the simplicity of the Norman fleche which
pierces the line of our horizon.

The last of Norman art is seen at Mantes, where there is a little
church of Gassicourt that marks the farthest reach of the style. In
arms as in architecture, Mantes barred the path of Norman conquest;
William the Conqueror met his death here in 1087. Geographically
Mantes is in the Ile de France, less than forty miles from Paris.
Architecturally, it is Paris itself; while, forty miles to the
southward, is Chartres, an independent or only feudally dependent
country. No matter how hurried the architectural tourist may be, the
boundary-line of the Ile de France is not to be crossed without
stopping. If he came down from the north or east, he would have
equally to stop,--either at Beauvais, or at Laon, or Noyon, or
Soissons,--because there is an architectural douane to pass, and
one's architectural baggage must be opened. Neither Notre Dame de
Paris nor Notre Dame de Chartres is quite intelligible unless one
has first seen Notre Dame de Mantes, and studied it in the sacred
sources of M. Viollet-le-Duc.

Notre Dame de Mantes is a sister to the Cathedral of Paris, "built
at the same time, perhaps by the same architect, and reproducing its
general dispositions, its mode of structure, and some of its
details"; but the Cathedral of Paris has been greatly altered, so
that its original arrangement is quite changed, while the church at
Mantes remains practically as it was, when both were new, about the
year 1200. As nearly as the dates can be guessed, the cathedral was
finished, up to its vaulting, in 1170, and was soon afterwards
imitated on a smaller scale at Mantes. The scheme seems to have been
unsatisfactory because of defects in the lighting, for the whole
system of fenestration had been changed at Paris before 1230,
naturally at great cost, since the alterations, according to
Viollet-le-Duc (articles "Cathedral" and "Rose," and allusions
"Triforium"), left little except the ground-plan unchanged. To
understand the Paris design of 1160-70, which was a long advance
from the older plans, one must come to Mantes; and, reflecting that
the great triumph of Chartres was its fenestration, which must have
been designed immediately after 1195, one can understand how, in
this triangle of churches only forty or fifty miles apart, the
architects, watching each other's experiments, were influenced,
almost from day to day, by the failures or successes which they saw
The fenestration which the Paris architect planned in 1160-70, and
repeated at Mantes, 1190-1200, was wholly abandoned, and a new
system introduced, immediately after the success of Chartres in

As they now stand, Mantes is the oldest. While conscientiously
trying to keep as far away as we can from technique, about which we
know nothing and should care if possible still less if only
ignorance would help us to feel what we do not understand, still the
conscience is happier if it gains a little conviction, founded on
what it thinks a fact. Even theologians--even the great theologians
of the thirteenth century--even Saint Thomas Aquinas himself--did
not trust to faith alone, or assume the existence of God; and what
Saint Thomas found necessary in philosophy may also be a sure source
of consolation in the difficulties of art. The church at Mantes is a
very early fact in Gothic art; indeed, it is one of the earliest;
for our purposes it will serve as the very earliest of pure Gothic
churches, after the Transition, and this we are told to study in its

Before one can get near enough fairly to mark the details of the
facade, one sees the great rose window which fills a space nearly
twenty-seven feet in width. Gothic fanatics commonly reckon the
great rose windows of the thirteenth century as the most beautiful
creation of their art, among the details of ornament; and this
particular rose is the direct parent of that at Chartres, which is
classic like the Parthenon, while both of them served as models or
guides for that at Paris which dates from 1220, those in the north
and south transepts at Rheims, about 1230, and so on, from parent to
child, till the rose faded forever. No doubt there were Romanesque
roses before 1200, and we shall see them, but this rose of Mantes is
the first Gothic rose of great dimensions, and that from which the
others grew; in its simplicity, its honesty, its large liberality of
plan, it is also one of the best, if M. Viollet-le-Duc is a true
guide; but you will see a hundred roses, first or last, and can
choose as you would among the flowers.

More interesting than even the great rose of the portal is the
remark that the same rose-motive is carried round the church
throughout its entire system of fenestration. As one follows it, on
the outside, one sees that all the windows are constructed on the
same rose-scheme; but the most curious arrangement is in the choir
inside the church. You look up to each of the windows through a sort
of tunnel or telescope: an arch enlarging outwards, the roses at the
end resembling "oeil-de-boeufs," "oculi." So curious is this
arrangement that Viollet-le-Duc has shown it, under the head
"Triforium," in drawings and sections which any one can study who
likes; its interest to us is that this arrangement in the choir was
probably the experiment which proved a failure in Notre Dame at
Paris, and led to the tearing-out the old windows and substituting
those which still stand. Perhaps the rose did not give enough light,
although the church at Mantes seems well lighted, and even at Paris
the rose windows remain in the transepts and in one bay of the nave.

All this is introduction to the windows of Chartres, but these three
churches open another conundrum as one learns, bit by bit, a few of
the questions to be asked of the forgotten Middle Ages. The church
towers at Mantes are very interesting, inside and out; they are
evidently studied with love and labour by their designer; yet they
have no fleches. How happens it that Notre Dame at Paris also has no
fleches, although the towers, according to Viollet-le-Duc, are
finished in full preparation for them? This double omission on the
part of the French architect seems exceedingly strange, because his
rival at Chartres finished his fleche just when the architect of
Paris and Mantes was finishing his towers (1175-1200). The Frenchman
was certainly consumed by jealousy at the triumph never attained on
anything like the same scale by any architect of the Ile de France;
and he was actually engaged at the time on at least two fleches,
close to Paris, one at Saint-Denis, another of Saint-Leu-d'Esserent,
which proved the active interest he took in the difficulties
conquered at Chartres, and his perfect competence to deal with them.

Indeed, one is tempted to say that these twin churches, Paris and
Mantes, are the only French churches of the time (1200) which were
left without a fleche. As we go from Mantes to Paris, we pass, about
half-way, at Poissy, under the towers of a very ancient and
interesting church which has the additional merit of having
witnessed the baptism of Saint Louis in 1215. Parts of the church at
Poissy go back to the seventh and ninth centuries. The square base
of the tower dates back before the time of Hugh Capet, to the
Carolingian age, and belongs, like the square tower of Saint-
Germain-des-Pres at Paris, to the old defensive military
architecture; but it has a later, stone fleche and it has, too, by
exception a central octagonal clocher, with a timber fleche which
dates from near 1100. Paris itself has not much to show, but in the
immediate neighbourhood are a score of early churches with charming
fleches, and at Etampes, about thirty-five miles to the south, is an
extremely interesting church with an exquisite fleche, which may
claim an afternoon to visit. That at Saint-Leu-d'Esserent is a still
easier excursion, for one need only drive over from Chantilly a
couple of miles. The fascinating old Abbey Church of Saint-Leu looks
down over the valley of the Oise, and is a sort of antechamber to
Chartres, as far as concerns architecture. Its fleche, built towards
1160,--when that at Chartres was rising,--is unlike any other, and
shows how much the French architects valued their lovely French
creation. On its octagonal faces, it carries upright batons, or
lances, as a device for relieving the severity of the outlines; a
device both intelligent and amusing, though it was never imitated. A
little farther from Paris, at Senlis, is another fleche, which shows
still more plainly the effort of the French architects to vary and
elaborate the Chartres scheme. As for Laon, which is interesting
throughout, and altogether the most delightful building in the Ile
de France, the fleches are gone, but the towers are there, and you
will have to study them, before studying those at Chartres, with all
the intelligence you have to spare. They were the chef-d'oeuvre of
the mediaeval architect, in his own opinion.

All this makes the absence of fleches at Paris and Mantes the more
strange. Want of money was certainly not the cause, since the
Parisians had money enough to pull their whole cathedral to pieces
at the very time when fleches were rising in half the towns within
sight of them. Possibly they were too ambitious, and could find no
design that seemed to satisfy their ambition. They took pride in
their cathedral, and they tried hard to make their shrine of Our
Lady rival the great shrine at Chartres. Of course, one must study
their beautiful church, but this can be done at leisure, for, as it
stands, it is later than Chartres and more conventional. Saint-
Germain-des-Pres leads more directly to Chartres; but perhaps the
church most useful to know is no longer a church at all, but a part
of the Museum of Arts et Metiers,--the desecrated Saint-Martin-des-
Champs, a name which shows that it dates from a time when the
present Porte-Saint-Martin was far out among fields. The choir of
Saint-Martin, which is all that needs noting, is said by M. Enlart
to date from about 1150. Hidden in a remnant of old Paris near the
Pont Notre Dame, where the student life of the Middle Ages was to be
most turbulent and the Latin Quarter most renowned, is the little
church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, towards 1170. On the whole,
further search in Paris would not greatly help us. If one is to
pursue the early centuries, one must go farther afield, for the
schools of Normandy and the Ile de France were only two among half a
dozen which flourished in the various provinces that were to be
united in the kingdom of Saint Louis and his successors. We have not
even looked to the south and east, whence the impulse came. The old
Carolingian school, with its centre at Aix-la-Chapelle, is quite
beyond our horizon. The Rhine had a great Romanesque architecture of
its own. One broad architectural tide swept up the Rhone and filled
the Burgundian provinces as far as the watershed of the Seine.
Another lined the Mediterranean, with a centre at Arles. Another
spread up the western rivers, the Charente and the Loire, reaching
to Le Mans and touching Chartres. Two more lay in the centre of
France, spreading from Perigord and Clermont in Auvergne. All these
schools had individual character, and all have charm; but we have
set out to go from Mont-Saint-Michel to Chartres in three centuries,
the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth, trying to get, on the way,
not technical knowledge; not accurate information; not correct views
either on history, art, or religion; not anything that can possibly
be useful or instructive; but only a sense of what those centuries
had to say, and a sympathy with their ways of saying it. Let us go
straight to Chartres!



For a first visit to Chartres, choose some pleasant morning when the
lights are soft, for one wants to be welcome, and the cathedral has
moods, at times severe. At best, the Beauce is a country none too

The first glimpse that is caught, and the first that was meant to be
caught, is that of the two spires. With all the education that
Normandy and the Ile de France can give, one is still ignorant. The
spire is the simplest part of the Romanesque or Gothic architecture,
and needs least study in order to be felt. It is a bit of sentiment
almost pure of practical purpose. It tells the whole of its story at
a glance, and its story is the best that architecture had to tell,
for it typified the aspirations of man at the moment when man's
aspirations were highest. Yet nine persons out of ten--perhaps
ninety-nine in a hundred--who come within sight of the two spires of
Chartres will think it a jest if they are told that the smaller of
the two, the simpler, the one that impresses them least, is the one
which they are expected to recognize as the most perfect piece of
architecture in the world. Perhaps the French critics might deny
that they make any such absolute claim; in that case you can ask
them what their exact claim is; it will always be high enough to
astonish the tourist.

Astonished or not, we have got to take this southern spire of the
Chartres Cathedral as the object of serious study, and before taking
it as art, must take it as history. The foundations of this tower--
always to be known as the "old tower"--are supposed to have been
laid in 1091, before the first crusade. The fleche was probably half
a century later (1145-70). The foundations of the new tower,
opposite, were laid not before 1110, when also the portal which
stands between them, was begun with the three lancet windows above
it, but not the rose. For convenience, this old facade--including
the portal and the two towers, but not the fleches, and the three
lancet windows, but not the rose--may be dated as complete about

Originally the whole portal--the three doors and the three lancets--
stood nearly forty feet back, on the line of the interior
foundation, or rear wall of the towers. This arrangement threw the
towers forward, free on three sides, as at Poitiers, and gave room
for a parvis, before the portal,--a porch, roofed over, to protect
the pilgrims who always stopped there to pray before entering the
church. When the church was rebuilt after the great fire of 1194,
and the architect was required to enlarge the interior, the old
portal and lancets were moved bodily forward, to be flush with the
front walls of the two towers, as you see the facade to-day; and the
facade itself was heightened, to give room for the rose, and to
cover the loftier pignon and vaulting behind. Finally, the wooden
roof, above the stone vault, was masked by the Arcade of Kings and
its railing, completed in the taste of Philip the Hardy, who reigned
from 1270 to 1285.

These changes have, of course, altered the values of all the parts.
The portal is injured by being thrown into a glare of light, when it
was intended to stand in shadow, as you will see in the north and
south porches over the transept portals. The towers are hurt by
losing relief and shadow; but the old fleche is obliged to suffer
the cruellest wrong of all by having its right shoulder hunched up
by half of a huge rose and the whole of a row of kings, when it was
built to stand free, and to soar above the whole facade from the top
of its second storey. One can easily figure it so and replace the
lost parts of the old facade, more or less at haphazard, from the
front of Noyon.

What an outrage it was you can see by a single glance at the new
fleche opposite. The architect of 1500 has flatly refused to submit
to such conditions, and has insisted, with very proper self-respect,
on starting from the balustrade of the Arcade of Kings as his level.
Not even content with that, he has carried up his square tower
another lofty storey before he would consent to touch the heart of
his problem, the conversion of the square tower into the octagon
fleche. In doing this, he has sacrificed once more the old fleche;
but his own tower stands free as it should.

At Vendome, when you go there, you will be in a way to appreciate
still better what happened to the Chartres fleche; for the clocher
at Vendome, which is of the same date,--Viollet-le-Duc says earlier,
and Enlart, "after 1130,"--stood and still stands free, like an
Italian campanile, which gives it a vast advantage. The tower of
Saint-Leu-d'Esserent, also after 1130, stands free, above the second
storey. Indeed, you will hardly find, in the long list of famous
French spires, another which has been treated with so much indignity
as this, the greatest and most famous of all; and perhaps the most
annoying part of it is that you must be grateful to the architect of
1195 for doing no worse. He has, on the contrary, done his best to
show respect for the work of his predecessor, and has done so well
that, handicapped as it is, the old tower still defies rivalry.
Nearly three hundred and fifty feet high, or, to be exact, 106.5
metres from the church floor, it is built up with an amount of
intelligence and refinement that leaves to unprofessional visitors
no chance to think a criticism--much less to express one. Perhaps--
when we have seen more--and feel less--who knows?--but certainly not

"The greatest and surely the most beautiful monument of this kind
that we possess in France," says Viollet-le-Duc; but although an
ignorant spectator must accept the architect's decision on a point
of relative merit, no one is compelled to accept his reasons, as
final. "There is no need to dwell," he continues, "upon the beauty
and the grandeur of composition in which the artist has given proof
of rare sobriety, where all the effects are obtained, not by
ornaments, but by the just and skilful proportion of the different
parts. The transition, so hard to adjust, between the square base
and the octagon of the fleche, is managed and carried out with an
address which has not been surpassed in similar monuments." One
stumbles a little at the word "adresse." One never caught one's self
using the word in Norman churches. Your photographs of Bayeux or
Boscherville or Secqueville will show you at a glance whether the
term "adresse" applies to them. Even Vendome would rather be praised
for "droiture" than for "adresse."--Whether the word "adresse" means
cleverness, dexterity, adroitness, or simple technical skill, the
thing itself is something which the French have always admired more
than the Normans ever did. Viollet-le-Duc himself seems to be a
little uncertain whether to lay most stress on the one or the other
quality: "If one tries to appreciate the conception of this tower,"
quotes the Abbe Bulteau (11,84), "one will see that it is as frank
as the execution is simple and skilful. Starting from the bottom,
one reaches the summit of the fleche without marked break; without
anything to interrupt the general form of the building. This
clocher, whose base is broad (pleine), massive, and free from
ornament, transforms itself, as it springs, into a sharp spire with
eight faces, without its being possible to say where the massive
construction ends and the light construction begins."

Granting, as one must, that this concealment of the transition is a
beauty, one would still like to be quite sure that the Chartres
scheme is the best. The Norman clochers being thrown out, and that
at Vendome being admittedly simple, the Clocher de Saint-Jean on the
Church of Saint-Germain at Auxerre seems to be thought among the
next in importance, although it is only about one hundred and sixty
feet in height (forty-nine metres), and therefore hardly in the same
class with Chartres. Any photograph shows that the Auxerre spire is
also simple; and that at Etampes you have seen already to be of the
Vendome rather than of the Chartres type. The clocher at Senlis is
more "habile"; it shows an effort to be clever, and offers a
standard of comparison; but the mediaeval architects seem to have
thought that none of them bore rivalry with Laon for technical
skill. One of these professional experts, named Villard de
Honnecourt, who lived between 1200 and 1250, left a notebook which
you can see in the vitrines of the Bibliotheque Nationale in the Rue
Richelieu, and which is the source of most that is known about the
practical ideas of mediaeval architects. He came to Chartres, and,
standing here before the doors, where we are standing, he made a
rough drawing, not of the tower, but of the rose, which was then
probably new, since it must have been planned between 1195 and 1200.
Apparently the tower did not impress him strongly, for he made no
note of it; but on the other hand, when he went to Laon, he became
vehement in praise of the cathedral tower there, which must have
been then quite new: "I have been in many countries, as you can find
in this book. In no place have I ever such a tower seen as that of
Laon.--J'ai este en mult de tieres, si cum vus pores trover en cest
livre. En aucun liu onques tel tor ne vi com est cele de Loon." The
reason for this admiration is the same that Viollet-le-Duc gives for
admiring the tower of Chartres--the "adresse" with which the square
is changed into the octagon. Not only is the tower itself changed
into the fleche without visible junction, under cover of four corner
tourelles, of open work, on slender columns, which start as squares;
but the tourelles also convert themselves into octagons in the very
act of rising, and end in octagon fleches that carry up--or once
carried up--the lines of profile to the central fleche that soared
above them. Clearly this device far surpassed in cleverness the
scheme of Chartres, which was comparatively heavy and structural,
the weights being adjusted for their intended work, while the
transformation at Laon takes place in the air, and challenges
discovery in defiance of one's keenest eyesight. "Regard... how the
tourelles pass from one disposition to another, in rising! Meditate
on it!"

The fleche of Laon is gone, but the tower and tourelles are still
there to show what the architects of the thirteenth century thought
their most brilliant achievement. One cannot compare Chartres
directly with any of its contemporary rivals, but one can at least
compare the old spire with the new one which stands opposite and
rises above it. Perhaps you will like the new best. Built at a time
which is commonly agreed to have had the highest standard of taste,
it does not encourage tourist or artist to insist on setting up
standards of his own against it. Begun in 1507, it was finished in
1517. The dome of Saint Peter's at Rome, over which Bramante and
Raphael and Michael Angelo toiled, was building at the same time;
Leonardo da Vinci was working at Amboise; Jean Bullant, Pierre
Lescot, and their patron, Francis I, were beginning their
architectural careers. Four hundred years, or thereabouts, separated
the old spire from the new one; and four hundred more separate the
new one from us. If Viollet-le-Duc, who himself built Gothic spires,
had cared to compare his fleches at Clermont-Ferrand with the new
fleche at Chartres, he might perhaps have given us a rule where
"adresse" ceases to have charm, and where detail becomes tiresome;
but in the want of a schoolmaster to lay down a law of taste, you
can admire the new fleche as much as you please. Of course, one sees
that the lines of the new tower are not clean, like those of the
old; the devices that cover the transition from the square to the
octagon are rather too obvious; the proportion of the fleche to the
tower quite alters the values of the parts; a rigid classical taste
might even go so far as to hint that the new tower, in comparison
with the old, showed signs of a certain tendency toward a dim and
distant vulgarity. There can be no harm in admitting that the new
tower is a little wanting in repose for a tower whose business is to
counterpoise the very classic lines of the old one; but no law
compels you to insist on absolute repose in any form of art; if such
a law existed, it would have to deal with Michael Angelo before it
dealt with us. The new tower has many faults, but it has great
beauties, as you can prove by comparing it with other late Gothic
spires, including those of Viollet-le-Duc. Its chief fault is to be
where it is. As a companion to the crusades and to Saint Bernard, it
lacks austerity. As a companion to the Virgin of Chartres, it
recalls Diane de Poitiers.

In fact, the new tower, which in years is four centuries younger
than its neighbour, is in feeling fully four hundred years older. It
is self-conscious if not vain; its coiffure is elaborately arranged
to cover the effects of age, and its neck and shoulders are covered
with lace and jewels to hide a certain sharpness of skeleton. Yet it
may be beautiful, still; the poets derided the wrinkles of Diane de
Poitiers at the very moment when King Henry II idealized her with
the homage of a Don Quixote; an atmosphere of physical beauty and
decay hangs about the whole Renaissance.

One cannot push these resemblances too far, even for the twelfth
century and the old tower. Exactly what date the old tower
represents, as a social symbol, is a question that might be as much
disputed as the beauty of Diane de Poitiers, and yet half the
interest of architecture consists in the sincerity of its reflection
of the society that builds. In mere time, by actual date, the old
tower represents the second crusade, and when, in 1150, Saint
Bernard was elected chief of that crusade in this very cathedral,--
or rather, in the cathedral of 1120, which was burned,--the workmen
were probably setting in mortar the stones of the fleche as we now
see them; yet the fleche does not represent Saint Bernard in
feeling, for Saint Bernard held the whole array of church-towers in
horror as signs merely of display, wealth and pride. The fleche
rather represents Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, Abbot Peter the
Venerable of Cluny, Abbot Abelard of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys, and
Queen Eleanor of Guienne, who had married Louis-le-Jeune in 1137;
who had taken the cross from Saint Bernard in 1147; who returned
from the Holy Land in 1149; and who compelled Saint Bernard to
approve her divorce in 1152. Eleanor and Saint Bernard were
centuries apart, yet they lived at the same time and in the same
church. Speaking exactly, the old tower represents neither of them;
the new tower itself is hardly more florid than Eleanor was; perhaps
less so, if one can judge from the fashions of the court-dress of
her time. The old tower is almost Norman, while Eleanor was wholly
Gascon, and Gascony was always florid without being always correct.
The new tower, if it had been built in 1150, like the old one, would
have expressed Eleanor perfectly, even in height and apparent effort
to dwarf its mate, except that Eleanor dwarfed her husband without
an effort, and both in art and in history the result lacked harmony.

Be the contrast what it may, it does not affect the fact that no
other church in France has two spires that need be discussed in
comparison with these. Indeed, no other cathedral of the same class
has any spires at all, and this superiority of Chartres gave most of
its point to a saying that "with the spires of Chartres, the choir
of Beauvais, the nave of Amiens, and the facade of Rheims," one
could make a perfect church--for us tourists.

The towers have taken much time, though they are the least religious
and least complicated part of church architecture, and in no way
essential to the church; indeed, Saint Bernard thought them an
excrescence due to pride and worldliness, and this is merely Saint
Bernard's way of saying that they were an ornament created to
gratify the artistic sense of beauty. Beautiful as they are, one's
eyes must drop at last down to the church itself. If the spire
symbolizes aspiration, the door symbolizes the way; and the portal
of Chartres is the type of French doors; it stands first in the
history of Gothic art; and, in the opinion of most Gothic artists,
first in the interest of all art, though this is no concern of ours.
Here is the Way to Eternal Life as it was seen by the Church and the
Art of the first crusade!

The fortune of this monument has been the best attested Miracle de
la Vierge in the long list of the Virgin's miracles, for it comes
down, practically unharmed, through what may with literal accuracy
be called the jaws of destruction and the flames of hell. Built some
time in the first half of the twelfth century, it passed, apparently
unscathed, through the great fire of 1194 which burnt out the church
behind, and even the timber interior of the towers in front of it.
Owing to the enormous mass of timber employed in the structure of
the great churches, these recurrent fires were as destructive as
fire can be made, yet not only the portals with their statuary and
carving, but also the lancet windows with their glass, escaped the
flames; and, what is almost equally strange, escaped also the hand
of the builder afterwards, who, if he had resembled other
architects, would have made a new front of his own, but who, with
piety unexampled, tenderly took the old stones down, one by one, and
replaced them forty feet in advance of their old position. The
English wars and the wars of religion brought new dangers, sieges,
and miseries; the revolution of 1792 brought actual rapine and
waste; boys have flung stones at the saints; architects have wreaked
their taste within and without; fire after fire has calcined the
church vaults; the worst wrecker of all, the restorer of the
nineteenth century, has prowled about it; yet the porch still
stands, mutilated but not restored, burned but not consumed, as
eloquent a witness to the power and perfections of Our Lady as it
was seven hundred years ago, and perhaps more impressive.

You will see portals and porches more or less of the same period
elsewhere in many different places,--at Paris, Le Mans, Sens, Autun,
Vezelay, Clermont-Ferrand, Moissac, Arles,--a score of them; for the
same piety has protected them more than once; but you will see no
other so complete or so instructive, and you may search far before
you will find another equally good in workmanship. Study of the
Chartres portal covers all the rest. The feeling and motive of all
are nearly the same, or vary only to suit the character of the
patron saint; and the point of all is that this feeling is the
architectural child of the first crusade. At Chartres one can read
the first crusade in the portal, as at Mont-Saint-Michel in the
Aquilon and the promenoir.

The Abbe Bulteau gives reason for assuming the year 1117 as the
approximate date of the sculpture about the west portal, and you saw
at Mont-Saint-Michel, in the promenoir of Abbot Roger II, an
accurately dated work of the same decade; but whatever the date of
the plan, the actual work and its spirit belong to 1145 or
thereabouts, Some fifty years had passed since the crusaders
streamed through Constantinople to Antioch and Jerusalem, and they
were daily going and returning. You can see the ideas they brought
back with the relics and missals and enamels they bought in
Byzantium. Over the central door is the Christ, which might be
sculptured after a Byzantine enamel, with its long nimbus or aureole
or glory enclosing the whole figure. Over the left door is an
Ascension, bearing the same stamp; and over the right door, the
seated Virgin, with her crown and her two attendant archangels, is
an empress. Here is the Church, the Way, and the Life of the twelfth
century that we have undertaken to feel, if not to understand!

First comes the central doorway, and above it is the glory of
Christ, as the church at Chartres understood Christ in the year
1150; for the glories of Christ were many, and the Chartres Christ
is one. Whatever Christ may have been in other churches, here, on
this portal, he offers himself to his flock as the herald of
salvation alone. Among all the imagery of these three doorways,
there is no hint of fear, punishment, or damnation, and this is the
note of the whole time. Before 1200, the Church seems not to have
felt the need of appealing habitually to terror; the promise of hope
and happiness was enough; even the portal at Autun, which displays a
Last Judgment, belonged to Saint Lazarus the proof and symbol of
resurrection. A hundred years later, every church portal showed
Christ not as Saviour but as Judge, and He presided over a Last
Judgment at Bourges and Amiens, and here on the south portal, where
the despair of the damned is the evident joy of the artist, if it is
not even sometimes a little his jest, which is worse. At Chartres
Christ is identified with His Mother, the spirit of love and grace,
and His Church is the Church Triumphant.

Not only is fear absent; there is not even a suggestion of pain;
there is not a martyr with the symbol of his martyrdom; and what is
still more striking, in the sculptured life of Christ, from the
Nativity to the Ascension, which adorns the capitals of the columns,
the single scene that has been omitted is the Crucifixion. There, as
everywhere in this portal, the artists seem actually to have gone
out of their way in order to avoid a suggestion of suffering. They
have pictured Christ and His Mother in all the other events of their
lives; they have represented evangelists; apostles; the twenty-four
old men of the Apocalypse; saints, prophets, kings, queens, and
princes, by the score; the signs of the zodiac, and even the seven
liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, geometry,
astronomy, and music; everything is there except misery.

Perhaps Our Lady of Chartres was known to be peculiarly gracious and
gentle, and this may partially account also for the extreme
popularity of her shrine; but whatever the reason, her church was
clearly intended to show only this side of her nature, and to
impress it on her Son. You can see it in the grave and gracious face
and attitude of the Christ, raising His hand to bless you as you
enter His kingdom; in the array of long figures which line the
entrance to greet you as you pass; in the expression of majesty and
mercy of the Virgin herself on her throne above the southern
doorway; never once are you regarded as a possible rebel, or
traitor, or a stranger to be treated with suspicion, or as a child
to be impressed by fear. Equally distinct, perhaps even more
emphatic, is the sculptor's earnestness to make you feel, without
direct insistence, that you are entering the Court of the Queen of
Heaven who is one with her Son and His Church. The central door
always bore the name of the "Royal Door," because it belonged to the
celestial majesty of Christ, and naturally bears the stamp of
royalty; but the south door belongs to the Virgin and to us. Stop a
moment to see how she receives us, remembering, or trying to
remember, that to the priests and artists who designed the portal,
and to the generations that went on the first and second crusades,
the Virgin in her shrine was at least as living, as real, as
personal an empress as the Basilissa at Constantinople!

On the lintel immediately above the doorway is a succession of small
groups: first, the Annunciation; Mary stands to receive the
Archangel Gabriel, who comes to announce to her that she is chosen
to be the Mother of God. The second is the Visitation, and in this
scene also Mary stands, but she already wears a crown; at least, the
Abbe Bulteau says so, although time has dealt harshly with it. Then,
in the centre, follows the Nativity; Mary lies on a low bed,
beneath, or before, a sort of table or cradle on which lies the
Infant, while Saint Joseph stands at the bed's head. Then the angel
appears, directing three shepherds to the spot, filling the rest of
the space.

In correct theology, the Virgin ought not to be represented in bed,
for she could not suffer like ordinary women, but her palace at
Chartres is not much troubled by theology, and to her, as empress-
mother, the pain of child-birth was a pleasure which she wanted her
people to share. The Virgin of Chartres was the greatest of all
queens, but the most womanly of women, as we shall see; and her
double character is sustained throughout her palace. She was also
intellectually gifted in the highest degree. In the upper zone you
see her again, at the Presentation in the Temple, supporting the
Child Jesus on the altar, while Simeon aids. Other figures bring
offerings. The voussures of the arch above contain six archangels,
with curious wings, offering worship to the Infant and His Imperial
Mother. Below are the signs of the zodiac; the Fishes and the Twins.
The rest of the arch is filled by the seven liberal arts, with
Pythagoras, Aristotle, Cicero, Euclid, Nicomachus, Ptolemy, and
Priscian as their representatives, testifying to the Queen's
intellectual superiority.

In the centre sits Mary, with her crown on her head and her Son in
her lap, enthroned, receiving the homage of heaven and earth; of all
time, ancient and modern; of all thought, Christian and Pagan; of
all men, and all women; including, if you please, your homage and
mine, which she receives without question, as her due; which she
cannot be said to claim, because she is above making claims; she is
empress. Her left hand bore a sceptre; her right supported the
Child, Who looks directly forward, repeating the Mother's attitude,
and raises His right hand to bless, while His left rests on the orb
of empire. She and her Child are one.

All this was noble beyond the nobility of man, but its earthly form
was inspired by the Empire rather than by the petty royalty of
Louis-le-Gros or his pious queen Alix of Savoy. One mark of the
period is the long, oval nimbus; another is the imperial character
of the Virgin; a third is her unity with the Christ which is the
Church. To us, the mark that will distinguish the Virgin of
Chartres, or, if you prefer, the Virgin of the Crusades, is her
crown and robes and throne. According to M. Rohault de Fleury's
"Iconographie de la Sainte Vierge" (11, 62), the Virgin's headdress
and ornaments had been for long ages borrowed from the costume of
the Empresses of the East in honour of the Queen of Heaven. No doubt
the Virgin of Chartres was the Virgin recognized by the Empress
Helena, mother of Constantine, and was at least as old as Helena's
pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326. She was not a Western, feudal queen,
nor was her Son a feudal king; she typified an authority which the
people wanted, and the fiefs feared; the Pax Romana; the omnipotence
of God in government. In all Europe, at that time, there was no
power able to enforce justice or to maintain order, and no symbol of
such a power except Christ and His Mother and the Imperial Crown.

This idea is very different from that which was the object of our
pilgrimage to Mont-Saint-Michel; but since all Chartres is to be one
long comment upon it, you can lay the history of the matter on the
shelf for study at your leisure, if you ever care to study into the
weary details of human illusions and disappointments, while here we
pray to the Virgin, and absorb ourselves in the art, which is your
pleasure and which shall not teach either a moral or a useful
lesson. The Empress Mary is receiving you at her portal, and whether
you are an impertinent child, or a foolish old peasant-woman, or an
insolent prince, or a more insolent tourist, she receives you with
the same dignity; in fact, she probably sees very little difference
between you. An empress of Russia to-day would probably feel little
difference in the relative rank of her subjects, and the Virgin was
empress over emperors, patriarchs, and popes. Any one, however
ignorant, can feel the sustained dignity of the sculptor's work,
which is asserted with all the emphasis he could put into it. Not
one of these long figures which line the three doorways but is an
officer or official in attendance on the Empress or her Son, and
bears the stamp of the Imperial Court. They are mutilated, but, if
they have been treated with indignity, so were often their temporal
rivals, torn to pieces, trampled on, to say nothing of being merely
beheaded or poisoned, in the Sacred Palace and the Hippodrome,
without losing that peculiar Oriental dignity of style which seems
to drape the least dignified attitudes. The grand air of the twelfth
century is something like that of a Greek temple; you can, if you
like, hammer every separate stone to pieces, but you cannot hammer
out the Greek style. There were originally twenty-four of these
statues, and nineteen remain. Beginning at the north end, and
passing over the first figure, which carries a head that does not
belong to it, notice the second, a king with a long sceptre of
empire, a book of law, and robes of Byzantine official splendour.
Beneath his feet is a curious woman's head with heavy braids of
hair, and a crown. The third figure is a queen, charming as a woman,
but particularly well-dressed, and with details of ornament and
person elaborately wrought; worth drawing, if one could only draw;
worth photographing with utmost care to include the strange support
on which she stands: a monkey, two dragons, a dog, a basilisk with a
dog's head. Two prophets follow--not so interesting;--prophets
rarely interest. Then comes the central bay: two queens who claim
particular attention, then a prophet, then a saint next the doorway;
then on the southern jamb-shafts, another saint, a king, a queen,
and another king. Last comes the southern bay, the Virgin's own, and
there stands first a figure said to be a youthful king; then a
strongly sculptured saint; next the door a figure called also a
king, but so charmingly delicate in expression that the robes alone
betray his sex; and who this exquisite young aureoled king may have
been who stands so close to the Virgin, at her right hand, no one
can now reveal. Opposite him is a saint who may be, or should be,
the Prince of the Apostles; then a bearded king with a broken
sceptre, standing on two dragons; and, at last, a badly mutilated

These statues are the Eginetan marbles of French art; from them all
modern French sculpture dates, or ought to date. They are singularly
interesting; as naif as the smile on the faces of the Greek
warriors, but no more grotesque than they. You will see Gothic
grotesques in plenty, and you cannot mistake the two intentions; the
twelfth century would sooner have tempted the tortures of every
feudal dungeon in Europe than have put before the Virgin's eyes any
figure that could be conceived as displeasing to her. These figures
are full of feeling, and saturated with worship; but what is most to
our purpose is the feminine side which they proclaim and insist
upon. Not only the number of the female figures, and their beauty,
but also the singularly youthful beauty of several of the males; the
superb robes they wear; the expression of their faces and their
figures; the details of hair, stuffs, ornaments, jewels; the
refinement and feminine taste of the whole, are enough to startle
our interest if we recognize what meaning they had to the twelfth

These figures looked stiff and long and thin and ridiculous to
enlightened citizens of the eighteenth century, but they were made
to fit the architecture; if you want to know what an enthusiast
thinks of them, listen to M. Huysmans's "Cathedral." "Beyond a
doubt, the most beautiful sculpture in the world is in this place."
He can hardly find words to express his admiration for the queens,
and particularly for the one on the right of the central doorway.
"Never in any period has a more expressive figure been thus wrought
by the genius of man; it is the chef-d'oeuvre of infantile grace and
holy candour .... She is the elder sister of the Prodigal Son, the
one of whom Saint Luke does not speak, but who, if she existed,
would have pleaded the cause of the absent, and insisted, with the
father, that he should kill the fatted calf at his son's return."
The idea is charming if you are the returning son, as many twelfth-
century pilgrims must have thought themselves; but, in truth, the
figure is that of a queen; an Eleanor of Guienne; her position there
is due to her majesty, which bears witness to the celestial majesty
of the Court in which she is only a lady-in-waiting: and she is
hardly more humanly fascinating than her brother, the youthful king
at the Virgin's right hand, who has nothing of the Prodigal Son, but
who certainly has much of Lohengrin, or even--almost--Tristan.

The Abbe Bulteau has done his best to name these statues, but the
names would be only in your way. That the sculptor meant them for a
Queen of Sheba or a King of Israel has little to do with their
meaning in the twelfth century, when the people were much more
likely to have named them after the queens and kings they knew. The
whole charm lies for us in the twelfth-century humanity of Mary and
her Court; not in the scriptural names under which it was made
orthodox. Here, in this western portal, it stands as the crusaders
of 1100-50 imagined it; but by walking round the church to the porch
over the entrance to the north transept, you shall see it again as
Blanche of Castile and Saint Louis imagined it, a hundred years
later, so that you will know better whether the earthly attributes
are exaggerated or untrue.

Porches, like steeples, were rather a peculiarity of French
churches, and were studied, varied, one might even say petted, by
French architects to an extent hardly attempted elsewhere; but among
all the French porches, those of Chartres are the most famous. There
are two: one on the north side, devoted to the Virgin; the other, on
the south, devoted to the Son, "The mass of intelligence, knowledge,
acquaintance with effects, practical experience, expended on these
two porches of Chartres," says Viollet-le-Duc, "would be enough to
establish the glory of a whole generation of artists. "We begin with
the north porch because it belonged to the Virgin; and it belonged
to the Virgin because the north was cold, bleak, sunless, windy, and
needed warmth, peace, affection, and power to protect against the
assaults of Satan and his swarming devils. There the all-suffering
but the all-powerful Mother received other mothers who suffered like
her, but who, as a rule, were not powerful. Traditionally in the
primitive church, the northern porch belonged to the women. When
they needed help, they came here, because it was the only place in
this world or in any other where they had much hope of finding even
a reception. See how Mary received them!

The porch extends the whole width of the transept, about one hundred
and twenty feet (37.65 metres), divided into three bays some twenty
feet deep, and covered with a stone vaulted roof supported on piers
outside. Begun toward 1215 under Philip Augustus, the architectural
part was finished toward 1225 under Louis VIII; and after his death
in 1226, the decorative work and statuary were carried on under the
regency of his widow, Blanche of Castile, and through the reign of
her son, Saint Louis (1235-70), until about 1275, when the work was
completed by Philip the Hardy. A gift of the royal family of France,
all the members of the family seem to have had a share in building
it, and several of their statues have been supposed to adorn it. The
walls are lined--the porch, in a religious sense, is inhabited--by
more than seven hundred figures, great and small, all, in one way or
another, devoted to the glory of the Queen of Heaven. You will see
that a hundred years have converted the Byzantine Empress into a
French Queen, as the same years had converted Alix of Savoy into
Blanche of Castile; but the note of majesty is the same, and the
assertion of power is, if possible, more emphatic.

The highest note is struck at once, in the central bay, over the
door, where you see the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven, a
favourite subject in art from very early times, and the dominant
idea of Mary's church. You see Mary on the left, seated on her
throne; on the right, seated on a precisely similar throne, is
Christ, Who holds up His right hand apparently to bless, since Mary
already bears the crown. Mary bends forward, with her hands raised
toward her Son, as though in gratitude or adoration or prayer, but
certainly not in an attitude of feudal homage. On either side, an
archangel swings a censer.

On the lintel below, on the left, is represented the death of Mary;
on the right, Christ carries, in the folds of His mantle, the soul
of Mary in the form of a little child, and at the same time blesses
the body which is carried away by angels--The Resurrection of Mary.

Below the lintel, supporting it, and dividing the doorway in halves,
is the trumeau,--the central pier,--a new part of the portal which
was unknown to the western door. Usually in the Virgin's churches,
as at Rheims, or Amiens or Paris, the Virgin herself, with her Son
in her arms, stands against this pier, trampling on the dragon with
the woman's head. Here, not the Virgin with the Christ, but her
mother Saint Anne stands, with the infant Virgin in her arms; while
beneath. is, or was, Saint Joachim, her husband, among his flocks,
receiving from the Archangel Gabriel the annunciation.

So at the entrance the Virgin declares herself divinely Queen in her
own right; divinely born; divinely resurrected from death, on the
third day; seated by divine right on the throne of Heaven, at the
right hand of God, the Son, with Whom she is one.

Unless we feel this assertion of divine right in the Queen of
Heaven, apart from the Trinity, yet one with It, Chartres is
unintelligible. The extreme emphasis laid upon it at the church door
shows what the church means within. Of course, the assertion was not
strictly orthodox; perhaps, since we are not members of the Church,
we might be unnoticed and unrebuked if we start by suspecting that
the worship of the Virgin never was strictly orthodox; but Chartres
was hers before it ever belonged to the Church, and, like Lourdes in
our own time, was a shrine peculiarly favoured by her presence. The
mere fact that it was a bishopric had little share in its sanctity.
The bishop was much more afraid of Mary than he was of any Church
Council ever held.

Critics are doing their best to destroy the peculiar personal
interest of this porch, but tourists and pilgrims may be excused for
insisting on their traditional rights here, since the porch is
singular, even in the thirteenth century, for belonging entirely to
them and the royal family of France, subject only to the Virgin.
True artists, turned critics, think also less of rules than of
values, and no ignorant public can be trusted to join the critics in
losing temper judiciously over the date or correctness of a portrait
until they knew something of its motives and merits. The public has
always felt certain that some of the statues which stand against the
outer piers of this porch are portraits, and they see no force in
the objection that such decoration was not customary in the Church.
Many things at Chartres were not customary in the Church, although
the Church now prefers not to dwell on them. Therefore the student
returns to Viollet-le-Duc with his usual delight at finding at least
one critic whose sense of values is stronger than his sense of rule:
"Each statue," he says in his "Dictionary" (111, 166), "possesses
its personal character which remains graven on the memory like the
recollection of a living being whom one has known .... A large part
of the statues in the porches of Notre Dame de Chartres, as well as
of the portals of the Cathedrals of Amiens and Rheims, possess these
individual qualities, and this it is which explains why these
statues produce on the crowd so vivid an impression that it names
them, knows them, and attaches to each of them an idea, often a

Probably the crowd did so from the first moment they saw the
statues, and with good reason. At all events, they have attached to
two of the most individual figures on the north porch, two names,
perhaps the best known in France in the year 1226, but which since
the year 1300 can have conveyed only the most shadowy meaning to any
but pure antiquarians. The group is so beautiful as to be given a
plate to itself in the "Monographie" (number 26), as representing
Philip Hurepel and his wife Mahaut de Boulogne. So little could any
crowd, or even any antiquarian, at any time within six hundred years
have been likely to pitch on just these persons to associate with
Blanche of Castile in any kind of family unity, that the mere
suggestion seems wild; yet Blanche outlived Pierre by nearly twenty
years, and her power over this transept and porch ended only with
her death as regent in 1252.

Philippe, nicknamed Hurepel,--Boarskin,--was a "fils deFrance,"
whose father, Philip Augustus, had serious, not to say fatal,
difficul ties with the Church about the legality of his marriage,
and was forced to abandon his wife, who died in 1201, after giving
birth to Hurepel in 1200. The child was recognized as legitimate,
and stood next to the throne, after his half-brother Louis, who was
thirteen years older. Almost at his birth he was affianced to
Mahaut, Countess of Boulogne, and the marriage was celebrated in
1216. Rich and strongly connected, Hurepel naturally thought
himself--and was--head of the royal family next to the King, and
when his half-brother, Louis VIII, died in 1226, leaving only a son,
afterwards Saint Louis, a ten-year-old boy, to succeed, Hurepel very
properly claimed the guardianship of his infant nephew, and deeply
resented being excluded by Queen Blanche from what he regarded--
perhaps with justice--as his right. Nearly all the great lords and
the members of the royal family sided with him, and entered into a
civil war against Blanche, at the moment when these two porches of
Chartres were building, between 1228 and 1230. The two greatest
leaders of the conspiracy were Hurepel, whom we are expected to
recognize on the pier of this porch, and Pierre Mauclerc, of
Brittany and Dreux, whom we have no choice but to admit on the
trumeau of the other. In those days every great feudal lord was more
or less related by blood to the Crown, and although Blanche of
Castile was also a cousin as well as queen-mother, they hated her as
a Spanish intruder with such hatred as men felt in an age when
passions were real.

That these two men should be found here, associated with Blanche in
the same work, at the same time, under the same roof, is a fantastic
idea, and students can feel in this political difficulty a much
stronger objection to admitting Hurepel to Queen Blanche's porch
than any supposed rule of Church custom; yet the first privilege of
tourist ignorance is the right to see, or try to see, their
thirteenth century with thirteenth-century eyes. Passing by the
statues of Philip and Mahaut, and stepping inside the church door,
almost the first figure that the visitor sees on lifting his eyes to
the upper windows of the transept is another figure of Philippe
Hurepel, in glass, on his knees, with clasped hands, before an
altar; and to prevent possibility of mistake his blazoned coat bears
the words: "Phi: Conte de Bolone." Apparently he is the donor, for,
in the rose above, he sits in arms on a white horse with a shield
bearing the blazon of France. Obliged to make his peace with the
Queen in 1230, Hurepel died in 1233 or 1234, while Blanche was still
regent, and instantly took his place as of right side by side with
Blanche's castles of Castile among the great benefactors of the

Beneath the next rose is Mahaut herself, as donor, bearing her
husband's arms of France, suggesting that the windows must have been
given together, probably before Philip's death in 1233, since Mahaut
was married again in 1238, this time to Alfonso of Portugal, who
repudiated her in 1249, and left her to die in her own town of
Boulogne in 1258. Lastly, in the third window of the series, is her
daughter Jeanne,--"Iehenne,"--who was probably born before 1220, and
who was married in 1236 to Gaucher de Chatillon, one of the greatest
warriors of his time. Jeanne also--according to the Abbe Bulteau
(111, 225)--bears the arms of her father and mother; which seems to
suggest that she gave this window before her marriage. These three
windows, therefore, have the air of dating at least as early as 1233
when Philip Hurepel died, while next them follow two more roses, and
the great rose of France, presumably of the same date, all scattered
over with the castles of Queen Blanche. The motive of the porch
outside is repeated in the glass, as it should be, and as the Saint
Anne of the Rose of France, within, repeats the Saint Anne on the
trumeau of the portal. The personal stamp of the royal family is
intense, but the stamp of the Virgin's personality is intenser
still. In the presence of Mary, not only did princes hide their
quarrels, but they also put on their most courteous manners and the
most refined and even austere address. The Byzantine display of
luxury and adornment had vanished. All the figures suggest the
sanctity of the King and his sister Isabel; the court has the air of
a convent; but the idea of Mary's majesty is asserted through it
all. The artists and donors and priests forgot nothing which, in
their judgment, could set off the authority, elegance, and
refinement of the Queen of Heaven; even the young ladies-in-waiting
are there, figured by the twelve Virtues and the fourteen
Beatitudes; and, indeed, though men are plenty and some of them are
handsome, women give the tone, the charm, and mostly the
intelligence. The Court of Mary is feminine, and its charms are
Grace and Love; perhaps even more grace than love, in a social
sense, if you look at Beauty and Friendship among Beatitudes.

M. Huysmans insists that this sculpture is poor in comparison with
his twelfth-century Prodigal Daughter, and I hope you can enter into
the spirit of his enthusiasm; but other people prefer the
thirteenth-century work, and think it equals the best Greek.
Approaching, or surpassing this,--as you like,--is the sculpture you
will see at Rheims, of the same period, and perhaps the same hands;
but, for our purpose, the Queen of Sheba, here in the right-hand
bay, is enough, because you can compare it on the spot with M.
Huysmans's figure on the western portal, which may also be a Queen
of Sheba, who, as spouse of Solomon, typified the Church, and
therefore prefigured Mary herself. Both are types of Court beauty
and grace, one from the twelfth century, the other from the
thirteenth, and you can prefer which you please; but you want to
bear in mind that each, in her time, pleased the Virgin. You can
even take for a settled fact that these were the types of feminine
beauty and grace which pleased the Virgin beyond all others.

The purity of taste, feeling, and manners which stamps the art of
these centuries, as it did the Court of Saint Louis and his mother,
is something you will not wholly appreciate till you reach the
depravity of the Valois; but still you can see how exquisite the
Virgin's taste was, and how pure. You can also see how she shrank
from the sight of pain. Here, in the central bay, next to King
David, who stands at her right hand, is the great figure of Abraham
about to sacrifice Isaac. If there is one subject more revolting
than another to a woman who typifies the Mother, it is this subject
of Abraham and Isaac, with its compound horror of masculine
stupidity and brutality. The sculptor has tried to make even this
motive a pleasing one. He has placed Abraham against the column in
the correct harshness of attitude, with his face turned aside and
up, listening for his orders; but the little Isaac, with hands and
feet tied, leans like a bundle of sticks against his father's knee
with an expression of perfect faith and confidence, while Abraham's
left hand quiets him and caresses the boy's face, with a movement
that must have gone straight to Mary's heart, for Isaac always
prefigured Christ.

The glory of Mary was not one of terror, and her porch contains no
appeal to any emotion but those of her perfect grace. If we were to
stay here for weeks, we should find only this idea worked into every
detail. The Virgin of the thirteenth century is no longer an
Empress; she is Queen Mother,--an idealized Blanche of Castile;--too
high to want, or suffer, or to revenge, or to aspire, but not too
high to pity, to punish, or to pardon. The women went to her porch
for help as naturally as babies to their mother; and the men, in her
presence, fell on their knees because they feared her intelligence
and her anger.

Not that all the men showed equal docility! We must go next, round
the church, to the south porch, which was the gift of Pierre
Mauclerc, Comte de Dreux, another member of the royal family, great-
grandson of Louis VI, and therefore second cousin to Louis VIII and
Philip Hurepel. Philip Augustus, his father's first cousin, married
the young man, in 1212, to Alix, heiress of the Duchy of Brittany,
and this marriage made him one of the most powerful vassals of the
Crown. He joined Philip Hurepel in resisting the regency of Queen
Blanche in 1227, and Blanche, after a long struggle, caused him to
be deposed in 1230. Pierre was obliged to submit, and was pardoned.
Until 1236, he remained in control of the Duchy of Brittany, but
then was obliged to surrender his power to his son, and turned his
turbulent activity against the infidels in Syria and Egypt, dying in
1250, on his return from Saint Louis's disastrous crusade. Pierre de
Dreux was a masculine character,--a bad cleric, as his nickname
Mauclerc testified, but a gentleman, a soldier, and a scholar, and,
what is more to our purpose, a man of taste. He built the south
porch at Chartres, apparently as a memorial of his marriage with
Alix in 1212, and the statuary is of the same date with that of the
north porch, but, like that, it was not finished when Pierre died in

One would like to know whether Pierre preferred to take the southern
entrance, or whether he was driven there by the royal claim to the
Virgin's favour. The southern porch belongs to the Son, as the
northern belongs to the Mother. Pierre never showed much deference
to women, and probably felt more at his ease under the protection of
the Son than of Mary; but in any case he showed as clearly as
possible what he thought on this question of persons. To Pierre,
Christ was first, and he asserted his opinion as emphatically as
Blanche asserted hers.

Which porch is the more beautiful is a question for artists to
discuss and decide, if they can. Either is good enough for us, whose
pose is ignorance, and whose pose is strictly correct; but apart
from its beauty or its art, there is also the question of feeling,
of motive, which puts the Porche de Dreux in contrast with the
Porche de France, and this is wholly within our competence. At the
outset, the central bay displays, above the doorway, Christ, on a
throne, raising His hands to show the stigmata, the wounds which
were the proof of man's salvation. At His right hand sits the
Mother,--without her crown; on His left, in equal rank with the
Mother, sits Saint John the Evangelist. Both are in the same
attitude of supplication as intercessors; there is no distinction in
rank or power between Mary and John, since neither has any power
except what Christ gives them. Pierre did not, indeed, put the
Mother on her knees before the Son, as you can see her at Amiens and
in later churches,--certainly bad taste in Mary's own palace; but he
allowed her no distinction which is not her strict right. The angels
above and around bear the symbols of the Passion; they are
unconscious of Mary's presence; they are absorbed in the perfections
of the Son. On the lintel just below is the Last Judgment, where
Saint Michael reappears, weighing the souls of the dead which Mary
and John above are trying to save from the strict justice of Christ.
The whole melodrama of Church terrors appears after the manner of
the thirteenth century, on this church door, without regard to
Mary's feelings; and below, against the trumeau, stands the great
figure of Christ,--the whole Church,--trampling on the lion and
dragon. On either side of the doorway stand six great figures of the
Apostles asserting themselves as the columns of the Church, and
looking down at us with an expression no longer calculated to calm
our fears or encourage extravagant hopes. No figure on this porch
suggests a portrait or recalls a memory.

Very grand, indeed, is this doorway; dignified, impressive, and
masculine to a degree seldom if ever equalled in art; and the left
bay rivals it. There, in the tympanum, Christ appears again;
standing; bearing on His head the crown royal; alone, except for the
two angels who adore, and surrounded only by the martyrs, His
witnesses. The right bay is devoted to Saint Nicholas and the Saints
Confessors who bear witness to the authority of Christ in faith. Of
the twenty-eight great figures, the officers of the royal court, who
make thus the strength of the Church beneath Christ, not one is a
woman. The masculine orthodoxy of Pierre Mauclerc has spared neither
sex nor youth; all are of a maturity which chills the blood,
excepting two, whose youthful beauty is heightened by the severity
of their surroundings, so that the Abbe Bulteau makes bold even to
say that "the two statues of Saint George and of Saint Theodore may
be regarded as the most beautiful of our cathedral, perhaps even as
the two masterpieces of statuary at the end of the thirteenth
century." On that point, let every one follow his taste; but one
reflection at least seems to force itself on the mind in comparing
these twenty-eight figures. Certainly the sword, however it may
compare with the pen in other directions, is in art more powerful
than all the pens, or volumes, or crosiers ever made. Your "Golden
Legend" and Roman Breviary are here the only guide-books worth
consulting, and the stories of young George and Theodore stand there
recorded; as their miracle under the walls of Antioch, during the
first crusade, is matter of history; but among these magnificent
figures one detects at a glance that it is not the religion or
sacred purity of the subject, or even the miracles or the
sufferings, which inspire passion for Saint George and Saint
Theodore, under the Abbe's robe; it is with him, as with the plain
boy and girl, simply youth, with lance and sword and shield.

These two figures stand in the outer embrasures of the left bay,
where they can be best admired, and perhaps this arrangement shows
what Perron de Dreux, as he was commonly called, loved most, in his
heart of hearts; but elsewhere, even in this porch, he relaxed his
severity, and became at times almost gracious to women. Good judges
have, indeed, preferred this porch to the northern one; but, be that
as you please, it contains seven hundred and eighty-three figures,
large and small, to serve for comparison. Among these, the female
element has its share, though not a conspicuous one; and even the
Virgin gets her rights, though not beside her Son. To see her, you
must stand outside in the square and, with a glass, look at the
central pignon, or gable, of the porch. There, just above the point
of the arch, you will see Mary on her throne, crowned, wearing her
royal robes, and holding the Child on her knees, with the two
archangels on either side offering incense. Pierre de Dreux, or some
one else, admitted at last that she was Queen Regent, although
evidently not eager to do so; and if you turn your glass up to the
gable of the transept itself, above the great rose and the colonnade
over it, you can see another and a colossal statue of the Virgin,
but standing, with the Child on her left arm. She seems to be
crowned, and to hold the globe in her right hand; but the Abbe
Bulteau says it is a flower. The two archangels are still there.
This figure is thought to have been a part of the finishing
decoration added by Philip the Fair in 1304.

In theology, Pierre de Dreux seems to show himself a more learned
clerk than his cousins of France, and, as an expression of the
meaning the church of Mary should externally display, the Porche de
Dreux, if not as personal, is as energetic as the Porche de France,
or the western portal. As we pass into the Cathedral, under the
great Christ, on the trumeau, you must stop to look at Pierre
himself. A bridegroom, crowned with flowers on his wedding-day, he
kneels in prayer, while two servants distribute bread to the poor.
Below, you see him again, seated with his wife Alix before a table
with one loaf, assisting at the meal they give to the poor. Pierre
kneels to God; he and his wife bow before the Virgin and the poor;--
but not to Queen Blanche!

Now let us enter!--



We must take ten minutes to accustom our eyes to the light, and we
had better use them to seek the reason why we come to Chartres
rather than to Rheims or Amiens or Bourges, for the cathedral that
fills our ideal. The truth is, there are several reasons; there
generally are, for doing the things we like; and after you have
studied Chartres to the ground, and got your reasons settled, you
will never find an antiquarian to agree with you; the architects
will probably listen to you with contempt; and even these excellent
priests, whose kindness is great, whose patience is heavenly, and
whose good opinion you would so gladly gain, will turn from you with
pain, if not with horror. The Gothic is singular in this; one seems
easily at home in the Renaissance; one is not too strange in the
Byzantine; as for the Roman, it is ourselves; and we could walk
blindfolded through every chink and cranny of the Greek mind; all
these styles seem modern, when we come close to them; but the Gothic
gets away. No two men think alike about it, and no woman agrees with
either man. The Church itself never agreed about it, and the
architects agree even less than the priests. To most minds it casts
too many shadows; it wraps itself in mystery; and when people talk
of mystery, they commonly mean fear. To others, the Gothic seems
hoary with age and decrepitude, and its shadows mean death. What is
curious to watch is the fanatical conviction of the Gothic
enthusiast, to whom the twelfth century means exuberant youth, the
eternal child of Wordsworth, over whom its immortality broods like
the day; it is so simple and yet so complicated; it sees so much and
so little; it loves so many toys and cares for so few necessities;
its youth is so young, its age so old, and its youthful yearning for
old thought is so disconcerting, like the mysterious senility of the
baby that--

Deaf and silent, reads the eternal deep,
Haunted forever by the eternal mind.

One need not take it more seriously than one takes the baby itself.
Our amusement is to play with it, and to catch its meaning in its
smile; and whatever Chartres maybe now, when young it was a smile.
To the Church, no doubt, its cathedral here has a fixed and
administrative meaning, which is the same as that of every other
bishop's seat and with which we have nothing whatever to do. To us,
it is a child's fancy; a toy-house to please the Queen of Heaven,--
to please her so much that she would be happy in it,--to charm her
till she smiled.

The Queen Mother was as majestic as you like; she was absolute; she
could be stern; she was not above being angry; but she was still a
woman, who loved grace, beauty, ornament,--her toilette, robes,
jewels;--who considered the arrangements of her palace with
attention, and liked both light and colour; who kept a keen eye on
her Court, and exacted prompt and willing obedience from king and
archbishops as well as from beggars and drunken priests. She
protected her friends and punished her enemies. She required space,
beyond what was known in the Courts of kings, because she was liable
at all times to have ten thousand people begging her for favours--
mostly inconsistent with law--and deaf to refusal. She was extremely
sensitive to neglect, to disagreeable impressions, to want of
intelligence in her surroundings. She was the greatest artist, as
she was the greatest philosopher and musician and theologist, that
ever lived on earth, except her Son, Who, at Chartres, is still an
Infant under her guardianship. Her taste was infallible; her
sentence eternally final. This church was built for her in this
spirit of simple-minded, practical, utilitarian faith,--in this
singleness of thought, exactly as a little girl sets up a doll-house
for her favourite blonde doll. Unless you can go back to your dolls,
you are out of place here. If you can go back to them, and get rid
for one small hour of the weight of custom, you shall see Chartres
in glory.

The palaces of earthly queens were hovels compared with these
palaces of the Queen of Heaven at Chartres, Paris, Laon, Noyon,
Rheims, Amiens, Rouen, Bayeux, Coutances,--a list that might be
stretched into a volume. The nearest approach we have made to a
palace was the Merveille at Mont-Saint-Michel, but no Queen had a
palace equal to that. The Merveille was built, or designed, about
the year 1200; toward the year 1500, Louis XI built a great castle
at Loches in Touraine, and there Queen Anne de Bretagne had
apartments which still exist, and which we will visit. At Blois you
shall see the residence which served for Catherine de Medicis till
her death in 1589. Anne de Bretagne was trebly queen, and Catherine
de Medicis took her standard of comfort from the luxury of Florence.
At Versailles you can see the apartments which the queens of the
Bourbon line occupied through their century of magnificence. All put
together, and then trebled in importance, could not rival the
splendour of any single cathedral dedicated to Queen Mary in the
thirteenth century; and of them all, Chartres was built to be
peculiarly and exceptionally her delight.

One has grown so used to this sort of loose comparison, this
reckless waste of words, that one no longer adopts an idea unless it
is driven in with hammers of statistics and columns of figures. With
the irritating demand for literal exactness and perfectly straight
lines which lights up every truly American eye, you will certainly
ask when this exaltation of Mary began, and unless you get the
dates, you will doubt the facts. It is your own fault if they are
tiresome; you might easily read them all in the "Iconographie de la
Sainte Vierge," by M. Rohault de Fleury, published in 1878. You can
start at Byzantium with the Empress Helena in 326, or with the
Council of Ephesus in 431. You will find the Virgin acting as the
patron saint of Constantinople and of the Imperial residence, under
as many names as Artemis or Aphrodite had borne. As Godmother [word
in Greek] Deipara [word in Greek], Pathfinder [word in Greek],
afterwards gave to Murillo the subject of a famous painting, told
that once, when he was reciting before her statue the "Ave Maris
Stella," and came to the words, "Monstra te esse Matrem," the image,
pressing its breast, dropped on the lips of her servant three drops
of the milk which had nourished the Saviour. The same miracle, in
various forms, was told of many other persons, both saints and
sinners; but it made so much impression on the mind of the age that,
in the fourteenth century, Dante, seeking in Paradise for some
official introduction to the foot of the Throne, found no
intercessor with the Queen of Heaven more potent than Saint Bernard.
You can still read Bernard's hymns to the Virgin, and even his
sermons, if you like. To him she was the great mediator. In the eyes
of a culpable humanity, Christ was too sublime, too terrible, too
just, but not even the weakest human frailty could fear to approach
his Mother. Her attribute was humility; her love and pity were
infinite. "Let him deny your mercy who can say that he has ever
asked it in vain."

Saint Bernard was emotional and to a certain degree mystical, like
Adam de Saint-Victor, whose hymns were equally famous, but the
emotional saints and mystical poets were not by any means allowed to
establish exclusive rights to the Virgin's favour. Abelard was as
devoted as they were, and wrote hymns as well. Philosophy claimed
her, and Albert the Great, the head of scholasticism, the teacher of
Thomas Aquinas, decided in her favour the question: "Whether the
Blessed Virgin possessed perfectly the seven liberal arts." The
Church at Chartres had decided it a hundred years before by putting
the seven liberal arts next her throne, with Aristotle himself to
witness; but Albertus gave the reason: "I hold that she did, for it
is written, 'Wisdom has built herself a house, and has sculptured
seven columns.' That house is the blessed Virgin; the seven columns
are the seven liberal arts. Mary, therefore, had perfect mastery of
science." Naturally she had also perfect mastery of economics, and
most of her great churches were built in economic centres. The
guilds were, if possible, more devoted to her than the monks; the
bourgeoisie of Paris, Rouen, Amiens, Laon, spend money by millions
to gain her favour. Most surprising of all, the great military class
was perhaps the most vociferous. Of all inappropriate haunts for the
gentle, courteous, pitying Mary, a field of battle seems to be the
worst, if not distinctly blasphemous; yet the greatest French
warriors insisted on her leading them into battle, and in the actual
melee when men were killing each other, on every battle-field in
Europe, for at least five hundred years, Mary was present, leading
both sides. The battle-cry of the famous Constable du Guesclin was
"Notre-Dame-Guesclin"; "Notre-Dame-Coucy" was the cry of the great
Sires de Coucy; "Notre-Dame-Auxerre"; "Notre-Dame-Sancerre"; "Notre-
Dame-Hainault"; "Notre-Dame-Gueldres"; "Notre-Dame-Bourbon"; "Notre-
Dame-Bearn";--all well-known battle-cries. The King's own battle at
one time cried, "Notre-Dame-Saint-Denis-Montjoie"; the Dukes of
Burgundy cried, "Notre-Dame-Bourgogne"; and even the soldiers of the
Pope were said to cry, "Notre-Dame-Saint-Pierre."

The measure of this devotion, which proves to any religious American
mind, beyond possible cavil, its serious and practical reality, is
the money it cost. According to statistics, in the single century
between 1170 and 1270, the French built eighty cathedrals and nearly
five hundred churches of the cathedral class, which would have cost,
according to an estimate made in 1840, more than five thousand
millions to replace. Five thousand million francs is a thousand
million dollars, and this covered only the great churches of a
single century. The same scale of expenditure had been going on
since the year 1000, and almost every parish in France had rebuilt
its church in stone; to this day France is strewn with the ruins of
this architecture, and yet the still preserved churches of the
eleventh and twelfth centuries, among the churches that belong to
the Romanesque and Transition period, are numbered by hundreds until
they reach well into the thousands. The share of this capital which
was--if one may use a commercial figure--invested in the Virgin
cannot be fixed, any more than the total sum given to religious
objects between 1000 and 1300; but in a spiritual and artistic
sense, it was almost the whole, and expressed an intensity of
conviction never again reached by any passion, whether of religion,
of loyalty, of patriotism, or of wealth; perhaps never even
parallelled by any single economic effort, except in war. Nearly
every great church of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries belonged
to Mary, until in France one asks for the church of Notre Dame as
though it meant cathedral; but, not satisfied with this, she
contracted the habit of requiring in all churches a chapel of her
own, called in English the "Lady Chapel," which was apt to be as
large as the church but was always meant to be handsomer; and there,
behind the high altar, in her own private apartment, Mary sat,
receiving her innumerable suppliants, and ready at any moment to
step up upon the high altar itself to support the tottering
authority of the local saint.

Expenditure like this rests invariably on an economic idea. Just as
the French of the nineteenth century invested their surplus capital
in a railway system in the belief that they would make money by it
in this life, in the thirteenth they trusted their money to the
Queen of Heaven because of their belief in her power to repay it
with interest in the life to come. The investment was based on the
power of Mary as Queen rather than on any orthodox Church conception
of the Virgin's legitimate station. Papal Rome never greatly loved
Byzantine empresses or French queens. The Virgin of Chartres was
never wholly sympathetic to the Roman Curia. To this day the Church
writers--like the Abbe Bulteau or M. Rohault de Fleury--are
singularly shy of the true Virgin of majesty, whether at Chartres or
at Byzantium or wherever she is seen. The fathers Martin and Cahier
at Bourges alone left her true value. Had the Church controlled her,
the Virgin would perhaps have remained prostrate at the foot of the
Cross. Dragged by a Byzantine Court, backed by popular insistence
and impelled by overpowering self-interest, the Church accepted the
Virgin throned and crowned, seated by Christ, the Judge throned and
crowned; but even this did not wholly satisfy the French of the
thirteenth century who seemed bent on absorbing Christ in His
Mother, and making the Mother the Church, and Christ the Symbol.

The Church had crowned and enthroned her almost from the beginning,
and could not have dethroned her if it would. In all Christian art--
sculpture or mosaic, painting or poetry--the Virgin's rank was
expressly asserted. Saint Bernard, like John Comnenus, and probably
at the same time (1120-40), chanted hymns to the Virgin as Queen:--

O salutaris Virgo Stella Maris
Generans prolem, Aequitatis solem,
Lucis auctorem, Retinens pudorem,
Suscipe laudem!

Celi Regina Per quam medicina
Datur aegretis, Gratia devotis,
Gaudium moestis, Mundo lux coelestis,
Spesque salutis;

Aula regalis, Virgo specialis,
Posce medelam Nobis et tutelam,
Suscipe vota, Precibusque cuncta
Pelle molesta!

O Saviour Virgin, Star of Sea,
Who bore for child the Son of Justice,
The source of Light, Virgin always
Hear our praise!

Queen of Heaven who have given
Medicine to the sick, Grace to the devout,
Joy to the sad, Heaven's light to the world
And hope of salvation;

Court royal, Virgin typical,
Grant us cure and guard,
Accept our vows, and by prayers
Drive all griefs away!

As the lyrical poet of the twelfth century, Adam de Saint-Victor
seems to have held rank higher if possible than that of Saint
Bernard, and his hymns on the Virgin are certainly quite as emphatic
an assertion of her majesty:--

Imperatrix supernorum!
Superatrix infernorum!
Eligenda via coeli,
Retinenda spe fideli,
Separatos a te longe
Revocatos ad te junge
Tuorum collegio!

Empress of the highest,
Mistress over the lowest,
Chosen path of Heaven,
Held fast by faithful hope,
Those separated from you far,
Recalled to you, unite
In your fold!

To delight in the childish jingle of the mediaeval Latin is a sign
of a futile mind, no doubt, and I beg pardon of you and of the
Church for wasting your precious summer day on poetry which was
regarded as mystical in its age and which now sounds like a nursery
rhyme; but a verse or two of Adam's hymn on the Assumption of the
Virgin completes the record of her rank, and goes to complete also
the documentary proof of her majesty at Chartres:--

Salve, Mater Salvatoris!
Vas electum! Vas honoris!
Vas coelestis Gratiae!
Ab aeterno Vas provisum!
Vas insigne! Vas excisum
Manu sapientiae!

Salve, Mater pietatis,
Et totius Trinitatis
Nobile Triclinium!
Verbi tamen incarnati
Speciale majestati
Praeparans hospitium!

O Maria! Stella maris!
Dignitate singularis,
Super omnes ordinaries
Ordines coelestium!
In supremo sita poli
Nos commenda tuae proli,
Ne terrores sive doli
Nos supplantent hostium!

Mother of our Saviour, hail!
Chosen vessel! Sacred Grail!
Font of celestial grace!
From eternity forethought!
By the hand of Wisdom wrought!
Precious, faultless Vase!

Hail, Mother of Divinity!
Hail, Temple of the Trinity!
Home of the Triune God!
In whom the Incarnate Word had birth,
The King! to whom you gave on earth
Imperial abode.

Oh, Maria! Constellation!
Inspiration! Elevation!
Rule and Law and Ordination
Of the angels' host!
Highest height of God's Creation,
Pray your Son's commiseration,
Lest, by fear or fraud, salvation
For our souls be lost!

Constantly--one might better say at once, officially, she was
addressed in these terms of supreme majesty: "Imperatrix
supernorum!" "Coeli Regina!" "Aula regalis!" but the twelfth century
seemed determined to carry the idea out to its logical conclusion
indefiance of dogma. Not only was the Son absorbed in the Mother, or
represented as under her guardianship, but the Father fared no
better, and the Holy Ghost followed. The poets regarded the Virgin
as the "Templum Trinitatis"; "totius Trinitatis nobile Triclinium."
She was the refectory of the Trinity--the "Triclinium"--because the
refectory was the largest room and contained the whole of the
members, and was divided in three parts by two rows of columns. She
was the "Templum Trinitatis," the Church itself, with its triple
aisle. The Trinity was absorbed in her.

This is a delicate subject in the Church, and you must feel it with
delicacy, without brutally insisting on its necessary
contradictions. All theology and all philosophy are full of
contradictions quite as flagrant and far less sympathetic. This
particular variety of religious faith is simply human, and has made
its appearance in one form or another in nearly all religions; but
though the twelfth century carried it to an extreme, and at Chartres
you see it in its most charming expression, we have got always to
make allowances for what was going on beneath the surface in men's
minds, consciously or unconsciously, and for the latent scepticism
which lurks behind all faith. The Church itself never quite accepted
the full claims of what was called Mariolatry. One may be sure, too,
that the bourgeois capitalist and the student of the schools, each
from his own point of view, watched the Virgin with anxious
interest. The bourgeois had put an enormous share of, his capital
into what was in fact an economical speculation, not unlike the
South Sea Scheme, or the railway system of our own time; except that
in one case the energy was devoted to shortening the road to Heaven;
in the other, to shortening the road to Paris; but no serious
schoolman could have felt entirely convinced that God would enter
into a business partnership with man, to establish a sort of joint-
stock society for altering the operation of divine and universal
laws. The bourgeois cared little for the philosophical doubt if the
economical result proved to be good, but he watched this result with
his usual practical sagacity, and required an experience of only
about three generations (1200-1300) to satisfy himself that relics
were not certain in their effects; that the Saints were not always
able or willing to help; that Mary herself could not certainly be
bought or bribed; that prayer without money seemed to be quite as
efficacious as prayer with money; and that neither the road to
Heaven nor Heaven itself had been made surer or brought nearer by an
investment of capital which amounted to the best part of the wealth
of France. Economically speaking, he became satisfied that his
enormous money-investment had proved to be an almost total loss, and
the reaction on his mind was as violent as the emotion. For three
hundred years it prostrated France. The efforts of the bourgeoisie
and the peasantry to recover their property, so far as it was
recoverable, have lasted to the present day and we had best take
care not to get mixed in those passions.

If you are to get the full enjoyment of Chartres, you must, for the
time, believe in Mary as Bernard and Adam did, and feel her presence
as the architects did, in every stone they placed, and every touch
they chiselled. You must try first to rid your mind of the
traditional idea that the Gothic is an intentional expression of
religious gloom. The necessity for light was the motive of the
Gothic architects. They needed light and always more light, until
they sacrificed safety and common sense in trying to get it. They
converted their walls into windows, raised their vaults, diminished
their piers, until their churches could no longer stand. You will
see the limits at Beauvais; at Chartres we have not got so far, but
even here, in places where the Virgin wanted it,--as above the high
altar,--the architect has taken all the light there was to take. For
the same reason, fenestration became the most important part of the
Gothic architect's work, and at Chartres was uncommonly interesting
because the architect was obliged to design a new system, which
should at the same time satisfy the laws of construction and the
taste and imagination of Mary. No doubt the first command of the
Queen of Heaven was for light, but the second, at least equally
imperative, was for colour. Any earthly queen, even though she were
not Byzantine in taste, loved colour; and the truest of queens--the
only true Queen of Queens--had richer and finer taste in colour than
the queens of fifty earthly kingdoms, as you will see when we come
to the immense effort to gratify her in the glass of her windows.
Illusion for illusion,--granting for the moment that Mary was an
illusion,--the Virgin Mother in this instance repaid to her
worshippers a larger return for their money than the capitalist has
ever been able to get, at least in this world, from any other
illusion of wealth which he has tried to make a source of pleasure
and profit.

The next point on which Mary evidently insisted was the arrangement
for her private apartments, the apse, as distinguished from her
throne-room, the choir; both being quite distinct from the hall, or
reception-room of the public, which was the nave with its
enlargements in the transepts. This arrangement marks the
distinction between churches built as shrines for the deity and
churches built as halls of worship for the public. The difference is
chiefly in the apse, and the apse of Chartres is the most
interesting of all apses from this point of view.

The Virgin required chiefly these three things, or, if you like,
these four: space, light, convenience; and colour decoration to
unite and harmonize the whole. This concerns the interior; on the
exterior she required statuary, and the only complete system of
decorative sculpture that existed seems to belong to her churches:--
Paris, Rheims, Amiens, and Chartres. Mary required all this
magnificence at Chartres for herself alone, not for the public. As
far as one can see into the spirit of the builders, Chartres was
exclusively intended for the Virgin, as the Temple of Abydos was
intended for Osiris. The wants of man, beyond a mere roof-cover, and
perhaps space to some degree, enter to no very great extent into the
problem of Chartres. Man came to render homage or to ask favours.
The Queen received him in her palace, where she alone was at home,
and alone gave commands.

The artist's second thought was to exclude from his work everything
that could displease Mary; and since Mary differed from living
queens only in infinitely greater majesty and refinement, the artist
could admit only what pleased the actual taste of the great ladies
who dictated taste at the Courts of France and England, which
surrounded the little Court of the Counts of Chartres. What they
were--these women of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries--we shall
have to see or seek in other directions; but Chartres is perhaps the
most magnificent and permanent monument they left of their taste,
and we can begin here with learning certain things which they were

In the first place, they were not in the least vague, dreamy, or
mystical in a modern sense;--far from it! They seemed anxious only
to throw the mysteries into a blaze of light; not so much physical,
perhaps,--since they, like all women, liked moderate shadow for
their toilettes,--but luminous in the sense of faith. There is
nothing about Chartres that you would think mystical, who know your
Lohengrin, Siegfried, and Parsifal. If you care to make a study of
the whole literature of the subject, read M. Male's "Art Religieux
du XIIIe Siecle en France," and use it for a guide-book. Here you
need only note how symbolic and how simple the sculpture is, on the
portals and porches. Even what seems a grotesque or an abstract idea
is no more than the simplest child's personification. On the walls
you may have noticed the Ane qui vielle,--the ass playing the lyre;
and on all the old churches you can see "bestiaries," as they were
called, of fabulous animals, symbolic or not; but the symbolism is
as simple as the realism of the oxen at Laon. It gave play to the
artist in his effort for variety of decoration, and it amused the
people,--probably the Virgin also was not above being amused;--now
and then it seems about to suggest what you would call an esoteric

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