Chartres cathedral has 179 stained-glass windows, which are all beautiful to examine, but I always find it a special joy to study the Rose Windows
Chartres’ rose windows are so special because they are almost a thousand years old and still vibrant and beautiful to examine. They mirror the topics of the main entrance of the church: the ascension of Jesus, Mary with child, and Jesus on his throne.
A full description of all Chartres stained-glass windows can be found in a book by Malcolm Millar. Malcolm has spent more than thirty years of his life studying the cathedral, and he is without a doubt the greatest authority on the cathedral’s stained-glass windows. If you are planning to visit Chartres, don’t forget to take your binoculars to study all the beautiful details.
In this blog, I want to talk about the three rose windows in the west, north, and south transepts of the church. But first, we have to examine the main entrance of the church.
Mysterious Chartres Cathedral
The main entrance
The western façade is the main entrance. It can be recognized by the two unequal towers, which represent the sun and the moon. Between the towers, you can see the three portals. The middle one is dedicated to Christ sitting on his throne and surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists:
- The winged man or angel: Matthew
- The winged lion: Markus
- The winged ox: Luke
- The eagle: John.
I always find it fascinating when Christ is depicted in the Vesica Piscis symbol because this is almost always a reference to sacred geometry; the oval is the centerpiece of two circles that intersect. It is the beginning of many geometric symbols.
The gate on the right represents Mary and on the left, we see the ascension of Christ. We will see these images back in the rose windows.
The West Window
Above the western entrance, we see the rose window with the Ascension. This magnificent window was installed in 1215 and allows the rays of the setting sun to pass through.
In the middle you see the ascension of Christ, he is showing his wounds of the crucifixion: his pierced hands and feet and the wound on his side.
He is surrounded by three large circles, each consisting of 12 smaller circles.
The first large circle consists of two parts. In the inner part, we see angels who are alternated with the symbols of the evangelists. At the top we see John and clockwise you can discover Mark at 3 o’clock, Matthew at 6, and Luke at 9.
The larger circles represent the final judgment. At the very bottom, you see that the people are weighed. One part goes with the devil (5 o’clock) and the other part follows Jesus (7 o’clock). At the top, we see Christ in heaven and to the left and right of him (11 o’clock and 1 o’clock) we see beautifully styled angels. The other images in this circle represent the apostles.
The outer circle represents scenes that seem to mirror each other. According to a book from Colin Ward, they are representations from the book of revelations.
This window is exactly the same size as the Labyrinth in the church. The rose window is as high as the distance between the wall and the labyrinth, so you can project it directly onto the labyrinth each other.
The North Window
The rose window of the northern transept is known as the rose of France. It was donated by Blanche of Castile, the mother of Louis IX. Blanche was regent of France between 1226 and 1236. The window dates from 1230.
If you look at it for a long time, the window seems to turn around its center, it gives the illusion of motion.
The centerpiece is the Madonna and Child, as is the image on the right gate at the main entrance.
Maria is surrounded by the French lily. In the second ring you see 4 white pigeons and 8 angels surrounding the virgin. Outside in the square planes the ancestors of Mary. Some names such as David and Salomon are clearly recognizable. Then another ring with French lilies.
The outer ring represents the 12 minor prophets. With some effort, you can read Amos (1 hour) and Jonas (2 hours).
According to some writers, this rose window connects Mary with the French royal family. In fact, the Capetian kings would be descended from David and are therefore related to Christ. Of course, this also applied to Louis IX.
The South Window
Pierre Mauclerk, Count of Dreux, and his wife, Alix de Bretagne, gave the window in the southern wall. The fact that his family had a dispute with Blanche de Castile is an intriguing detail. Despite this conflict, there are parallels between the northern and southern windows.
In the middle you will recognize Christ sitting on his throne.
In his hand he carries a cup, this could be a reference to the Holy Grail. The legend of the Holy Grail dates from the same period as the construction of Chartres Cathedral.
Here too Jesus is surrounded by Angels and here too you can recognize the evangelists.
The outer rings represent the elders from Revelations. In their left hand they have a musical instrument and in the other hand a bottle. Perhaps also a reference to the sacred elixir. An elixir or elixir , also called elixir of life, (from Arabic: الإكسير – al-‘iksīr) is a drink, to which certain magical or medicinal properties are usually attributed. In alchemy, it was also another name for the Philosopher’s Stone that could convert base metals into gold.
The magic of Chartres' Rose Windows
It may be called a miracle that the windows are almost 1000 years old and still undamaged. The images are references to the tympanum above the main entrance. You will also see these images on other windows in Chartres. One of the oldest stained glass windows is Notre-Dame de la Belle Verriere. This window dates from before the fire in 1194. The stained glass window is called the blue madonna, an image that you will see not only in the main portal but also in the crypt.
The windows in Chartres bear witness to pure magic and you can spend hours just studying the images.
From the end of April to mid-October, you can see the Chartres en Lumiere every evening.The light festival starts at dusk, repeats until 1:00 am, and is great to experience. You can sit in the park at the main entrance.
- Plan your visit on Friday if you want to walk the labyrinth.
- The cathedral is closed for tourists on Sunday morning and during (other) church services.
- Opening hours are from 8.30 to 19.30
Audioguide: € 7,00
- Entrance Crypt (5 to 7 times a day): €4.00 (note: The tour is in French, you will receive a folder in your language)
- You can visit the bell tower for € 6,00
Mysterious Chartres Cathedral
Places to stay
Chartres Cathedral is magnificent, but you will also love the old town. So it will be worthwhile to book a hotel for a day (or two).
Just fill in the dates below and see what is available. I always use booking.com because it is easy to use.
Maybe you’d like to check out the Mercure Chartres Cathedrale hotel. It is in the center, near the cathedral and has a lovely staff.