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.
NORMANDY AND THE ILE DE FRANCE
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 conventionality.
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 covers.
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 1210.
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 windows.
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!
TOWERS AND PORTALS
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 gay.
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 1150.
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 now!
“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 queen.
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 century.
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 legend.”
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 church.
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 1250.
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!–
THE VIRGIN OF CHARTRES
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,
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
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:–
Eligenda via coeli,
Retinenda spe fideli,
Separatos a te longe
Revocatos ad te junge
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
Salve, Mater pietatis,
Et totius Trinitatis
Verbi tamen incarnati
O Maria! Stella maris!
Super omnes ordinaries
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
Oh, Maria! Constellation!
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 not.
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