The Bridges of Chartres
Walking around this city, we will found several bridge and some of them go back several centuries. Here are some of the most representative.
Pont Bouju [Bouju Bridge]
The Bouju Bridge was, for a long time, the city’s most important bridge; it was also called “Grand Pont” and the “Pont du Château” because it served the village where the counts’ chateaus were located. There was no mention of it before 1300. It could have replaced a drawbridge that gave access to the château’s farmyard. One could find there, during the 14th century, the Tibelin Mill and the Saint-Maurice canonesses’ commonplace oven. This bridge owes its name to a resident family that lived in Chartres during the second half of the 18th century.
Pont des Minimes [Minimes Bridge]
The name “Pont des Minimes” refers to the monastery of monks (an order founded by Saint-François de Paule) that was set up some time after 1615. The entrance gate can still be seen, along the bridge’s alignment, at the end of de la Corroirie Street. During the Revolution this bridge was renamed, like a lot of others. It was given the name “Pont des Casernes,” which referred to the cavalry barracks that had been set up not too far away, left of the Coin-Cornu impasse). Those barracks, which were built during the middle of the 18th century, were used until 1840
Pont Neuf [The New Bridge]
Development of a bypass route along Tour-de-Ville’s boulevards started around 1765 and lasted 70 years. The construction of Neuf Bridge, plans for which were finalized in 1783, was carried out between 1806 and 1809. The entrepreneur Chasles (father of the future Deputy Mayor of Chartres), who had already grown wealthy through trafficking goods inside of the country, got authorization to exploit cheap labor: Prussian and Spanish prisoners of war! Navigation along the Eure, which had been active during the time of the Gauls (Chartres’ Celtic name had been Autrikon, which means “port on the Eure”), was pursued to a very great extent until the 16th century and was finally ruined because of the religious wars, after 1560. The port was, without a doubt, rudimentary; it must have then been found close to the Saint-André church. The Neuf Bridge, like a lot of other bridges around Chartres, was cut off by the retreating German army on August 16, 1944. The wooden bridge, which was done away with following this sabotage, was replaced several years later by a stone construction that looked identical to the same.
Pont Saint-Hilaire [The Saint-Hilaire Bridge]
This bridge owes its name to the parish church that formerly was on the neighboring spot, next to the Saint-Père abbey church. It had an important role since it allowed the route that came from Orléans to cross the Eure so that the center of the town could be reached. Built in 1106, Saint-Hilaire Church was used by the parish until it was demolished under the Revolution. The Saint-Hilaire parish once one of the most populated in the town; it was mostly inhabited by artisans and textile workers, such as spinners, weavers, fullers, and dyers whose establishments were set up along the shores of the river. The big house on top of the arches, which is close to the bridge, is perhaps one of the moneychanger establishments from the 16th century. At the time of the Revolution, the Société Populaire des Sans-Culottes used the church as its meeting room before it was demolished. The bridge was then renamed “Pont des Sans-Culottes.” In 1944, since all the bridges that had been set up on Fossé-Neuf had been deemed impassable, the American army’s vanguard had to make use of this bridge to go forward with its advance.
Pont Saint-Thomas [The Saint-Thomas Bridge]
Around 1300, this bridge was known by the name “Pont Boysard.” It would continue to be designated by that same name until the end of the 18th century. It was, without a doubt, the name of one of the town’s residents. The change to the name “Saint-Thomas” is perplexing for historians. Did one want to honor the famous apostle because of his skepticism, or the martyr of Canterbury? The Chartres church venerated this bishop, in particular, in honor of whom it had a chapel built in one of the neighborhoods that was further removed from the center of town (in a section of today’s Saint-Thomas Street).
Pont du Massacre [Massacre Bridge]
Formerly known as the Seven Arches Bridge (they were actually not more than six), and then the Bureau Bridge (most likely because of its proximity to the Saint-André Hospice, which had a welfare office), its current name does not refer to the killings that took place nearby at the time of the 1568 and 1591 sieges. Instead, it brings to mind the massacre or neighboring slaughterhouse that had been in existence during the 16th century. The revolutionaries showed they did not lack a sense of humor when they renamed it “Regeneration Bridge!” Before that time, there was an old, fortified structure that was called “Vieux Château,” there, where King Louis XI wanted to have a manor house built. François 1st sold that piece of land back to the town in 1520. Downstream, the Léthinière Gate barred passage along the river. The chapel located at the end of the bridge, which was called the Brèche Chapel, was erected in recognition of the protection that the Virgin Mary is said to have given to the town during the Siege of 1585 by gathering enemy cannon fire into the folds of her mantle. Around the upstream area, winnowing was carried out at the Welfare Office’s mill, which was close to the hospice.
Pont Saint-Père [Saint-Père Bridge]
This bridge is certainly the oldest in Chartres. During the 14th century, it was used a dam for several mills: the Saint-Père Mill and the Morts Mill (which were brought together under the name Saint-Père Mill, for the benefit of the nearby abbey), and Herle Mill (which also was later incorporated into the Saint-Père Mill). It was first made of wood; however, it is not known during what period it was reconstructed in stone. In 1892, a gate that allowed workers in town to go and clean out the river was built under its arches. Only its frame remains today.
Pont Taillard [Taillard Bridge]
It is the Taillard Bridge that crosses over the river, down-river from Saint-Hilaire Bridge. During the 11th century, the Saint-Père Abbey comes up with a name for it: “pons Mergentis pediculi,” which means “sinking louse bridge.” Historians have offered an explanation for this nonsensical phrase: the scribe must have heard the word “pou” said, which made him think of the parasite: since the word had to do with lice, it referred to a swamp. Therefore, in effect, it meant the “bridge over the sinking swamp.” It was first know as “Pont de l’Abreuvoir” during the 13th century, then “Pont Tailhard,” or “Taillard;” it gets its name from pleyons (refers to wickerwork or wooden links) that were carved from wood found along the slope, or even at the pleyons market nearby. During the 16th century, it was the only bridge in town with houses on top of it. During the Revolution, it was called “Pont Tricolore.”
Pont de la Porte Morard [Morard Gate Bridge]
During the Gallo-Roman period, the town extended beyond this border. But by 1100 all the habitations had disappeared and space for different cultures was opened up. The name of a person called “Morard” was given to the town gate, which was then constructed at this spot. The moat was dug during 1357 because of threats from the English. The wooden bridge that crossed over it was replaced by a stone bridge in 1747. The gate, which is of no architectural significance, was demolished in 1847. During August of 1944, the retreating German army made all the bridges that spanned the ditch unserviceable, with the exception of this one, which two courageous residents of that neighborhood saved. Its saving allowed the Allies to go on, without delay, with their victorious advance.
Médiatheque de Chartres
Chartres media library or Mediatheque de Chartres formerly was a post office named Notre-Dame des Postes.
Raoul Brandon, graduated from National School of Fine Arts Paris, was the architect who built the building in 1923. The construction itself finished in 1928.
He took some inspirations of middle ages buildings and combined with new-Gothic bell tower and Art Deco elements.
Walking around in this city and admiring the picturesque streets of Chartres, which with ancient half-timbered houses and old bridges are all an invitation for a stroll. Shops, crafts workshops and restaurants are all to be discovered in the old town. In the paved streets and up and down staircases, the shop windows of glassblowers, perfumers or cabinet makers mingle with restaurants in which you will find foie gras, pâté de Chartres, Perche cider...
- Family Travel
Notre Dame de Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar)
This polychrome statue, made of pear of wood, was sculpted in the 16th century and place upon the pillar from the 13th century rood-screen. In 1830 it was surrounded by a wooden structure in neo-gothic style. Marry's crown was added in 1855 during the papacy of Pius IX. In troubled times children would come here, kneeling, torch in hand, canting a Salve regina. The piety of faithful is symbolized by the lights.
The Stained Glass Windows of Chartres
Throughout the cathedral, vivid color splashes on to the floor from the superb stained glass windows that glow like jewels. Dating from the early 13th century, Chartres Cathedral's glass largely escaped harm during the religious wars of the 16th century; it is said to constitute one of the most complete collections of medieval stained glass in the world. Depending on how you count, there are between 150 and 170 medieval stained glass windows in Chartres Cathedral.
The West Rose dates from early 13th century and its three lancet windows are from c.1150. The rose window depicts the Last Judgment: Christ in judgment is surrounded by Four Evangelists and angels, then scenes of angels blowing trumpets, resurrection, judgment, heaven and hell. The left lancet is the Passion and Resurrection Window; the middle lancet is the Incarnation Window; and the right lancet is the Jesse Window.
The North Rose and its five lancet windows were a gift from Queen Blanche of Castille in 1230. The rose window depicts the Glorification of the Virgin: Virgin and Child surrounded by doves and angels, then Old Testament kings and Old Testament prophets. Lancets, from left to right: Melchizadek and King Saul; King David and King Jeroboam; St Anne and the infant Mary with the arms of the Royal House of France; King Solomon and King Nebuchadezzar; Aaron and Pharaoh.
The South Rose and its five lancet windows date from the 1230s. The rose window depicts the Glorification of Christ: Christ blessing surrounded by Four Evangelists and angels, then the elders of the Apocalypse, then the arms of donors to the cathedral. Lancets, from left to right: Evangelist Luke over Prophet Jeremiah; Evangelist Matthew over Prophet Isaiah; Virgin and Child; Evangelist John over Prophet Ezekiel; Evangelist Mark over Prophet Daniel.
Another very notable window is the Blue Virgin Window (Notre Dame de la Belle Verrière), created around 1150 and now part of a window in the south ambulatory aisle next to the transept.
The Chartres Labyrinth
The stone floor still bears its ancient floor labyrinth (1205), used for walking contemplation by monks and still used for meditation by pilgrims. There is just one path through the labyrinth and it is 964 feet long. According to John James, the center of the labyrinth once had a metal plate with figures of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur, figures from the classical myth of the labyrinth on Minos.
The circumference of the labyrinth is 131 feet, almost exactly the same size as the West Rose window. Intriguingly, the labyrinth is the same distance from the west entrance as the West Rose is from the floor - so if the west wall fell inwards, the rose would land directly on the Labyrinth.
Chartres Cathedral (full name Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres) is located in the medieval town of Chartres. Chartres Cathedral is one of the greatest achievements in the history of architecture, it is almost perfectly preserved in its original design and details. Chartres' extensive cycle of portal sculpture remains fully intact and its glowing stained-glass windows are all originals. Chartres is thus the only cathedral that conveys an almost perfect image of how it looked when it was built.
According to tradition, Chartres Cathedral has housed the tunic of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Sancta Camisia, since 876. The relic was said to have been given to the cathedral by Charlemagne, who received it as a gift during a trip to Jerusalem. Because of this relic, Chartres has been a very important Marian pilgrimage center and the faithful still come from the world over to honor it.
The present cathedral is one of several French Gothic masterpieces built because fire had destroyed its predecessors. After the first cathedral of any great substance burnt down in 1020, a glorious new Romanesque basilica with a massive crypt was built under the direction of Bishop Fulbert and later Geoffroy de Lèves.
The cathedral survived a fire in 1134 that destroyed much of the rest of the town, but was not so lucky on the night of June 10, 1194, when lightning ignited a great fire that destroyed all but the west towers, the façade and the crypt.
The people despaired when it seemed that the Sancta Camisia had also perished in the fire. But three days later it was found unharmed in the treasury, which the bishop proclaimed was a sign from Mary herself that another, even more magnificent, cathedral should be built in Chartres. Donations came in from all over France and rebuilding began almost immediately in 1194. The people of Chartres volunteered to haul the necessary stone from quarries 5 miles away.
The construction project used the plans laid out by the first architect in order to preserve the harmonious aspect of the cathedral. Work began first on the nave and by 1220 the main structure was complete, with the old crypt, the west towers and the west facade incorporated into the new building. On October 24, 1260, the cathedral was finally dedicated in the presence of King Louis IX and his family.
Chartres Cathedral was never destroyed nor looted during the French Revolution and the numerous restorations never have altered its glorious beauty. It always stayed the same: a great triumph of Gothic art. The cathedral was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1979.
- Religious Travel
Built in the 16th century, this Renaissance-style mansion belonged to the apothecary Claude Huvé and his family. It is attributed to the renowned architect Philibert Delorme, who is famous for designing several French châteaux, the tomb of François 1er at Basilique Saint-Denis, and a section of the Louvre in Paris. Although relatively small (and less important than other works), this mansion is beautifully decorated with Renaissance-style figurines and motifs. It was among the first few structures in Chartres to be classified as a historic monument, in 1862. Since 1953, it has housed a bookshop, and its staff would happily let you in to take a look at the interior architecture. The main entrance of the mansion has been transformed into a window. (The mansion is sometimes also referred to as "Logis Claude Huvé").
- Historical Travel
The only remaining vestige from the wall that once enclosed the Cathedral is this lone arched gateway sandwiched between two buildings. Known as la Port Saint-Yves, this gateway was built along with the rest of the enclosure in 1327 to isolate the Cathedral and the monks from the outside world. The enclosure was pierced by nine different doors, and Port Saint-Yves led directly to the northern entrance of the Cathedral. Overtime, the enclosure wall disappeared as buildings rose along its path, which can still be traced by rue du Cardinal-Pie to the north, and rue du Cloître Notre-Dame to the south.
- Historical Travel
Cathédrale de Chartres: la Façade Sud
Older than the northern façade by 3 years (i.e. completed in 1227), the southern façade of the transept is very similar in style. Its central features are also the intricately carved triple arched portal and the large rose window above it, which vary slightly in style from the northern counterpart. Here, the statues within the Gothic arches depict scenes from the New Testament with the Last Judgement as the centrepiece. The stained glass windows above the portal depict the Glorification of Christ and the Apocalypse. When I visited in Dec 2011, the upper part of this façade had recently been cleaned and restored, but the portal itself was blackened by years of pollution. Perhaps it will be next in the slow ongoing restoration process...
For more photos of the southern façade, take a look at the travelogue: "la Cathédrale de Chartres: Façade Sud."
- Historical Travel
Cathédrale de Chartres: la Façade Nord
An elaborately decorated triple arched Gothic portal and a magnificent rose window are the central features of the northern façade of the Transept of the Cathedral of Chartres. It was completed around 1230 AD, only a few years after the southern façade. The three arches within the portal contain intricately carved statues depicting scenes from the Old Testament and the life of the Virgin Mary before the birth of Jesus. Similar scenes are also depicted in the stained glass of the rose window and the five lancets beneath it, all originals. The portal on this side led directly to Porte Saint-Yves, the only remaining gate in the enclosure that once surrounded the Cathedral. On my visit on the 28th December 2011, the southern portal had been recently restored and was free of grime, making it easier to appreciate the sculptures.
For more photos of the northern façade, take a look at the travelogue: "la Cathédrale de Chartres: Façade Nord."
- Historical Travel
(ex-) Église Saint-André
Built in the 12th century and expanded in the 14th, Église Saint-André has conserved many of its original Romanesque details. Most impressive is its triple arched portal on the façade with typical Romanesque carvings. The 14th century renovation added the Gothic details such as the side windows and the second level of the façade. When it was originally built, the back of the church lay over the River Eure, but the path of river shifted over the centuries. After the French Revolution, the church was deconsecrated and slowly fell into decay, and for a period of time afterwards, it was used as a shop and a warehouse. Unfortunately, it lies vacant nowadays, with no access to the ruined interior (at least when I visited in Dec 2011). Note that Saint-André was built on the site of the Roman Theatre of Chartres, whose curvature is traced by rue du Cloître Saint-André. Likely, the church was built using stones from the ruins of the Roman Theatre itself.
- Historical Travel
Maison de la Voûte
Known as Maison de la Voûte (House of the Vault) because of its interior vaulted arches, this edifice is among the oldest surviving in Chartres. It was built in the 12th century as a warehouse for salt, an important commodity in those days. Beautiful Gothic windows decorate the façade, while the interior consists of a large open space supported by high vaulted arches resting on a lone Corinthian column. The building was classified as a historic monument in 1966. It is nowadays used as a boutique, so you can pretend to be shopping for clothes to go in for a peek. I'm sure you won't be the first...
(ex-) Église Sainte-Foy
Once a grand Romanesque edifice, the former church, Église Sainte-Foy, is nowadays a fraction of its original size. A lone portal with beautiful Romanesque features is all that is left of the original façade, and stands as a reminder of the extent of the original structure. The small extant chapel beyond the small garden - nowadays used as a boutique - was merely the choir and apse of the church, and has been much modified over time. The earliest historic mention of Sainte-Foy comes in the early 11th century by Fulbert de Chartres, the bishop of the Cathedral of Chartres, who used to visit Chapelle Sainte-Foy. In the 13th century, it became a parochial church, but by 1793 it had been deconsecrated and abandoned. Subsequently, it was converted into a public theatre, which resulted in the destruction of the façade and the first four bays of the nave. Only the Romanesque portal was kept, which served as the entrance to a new structure built in the cleared area, while the surviving choir and apse served as the actual stage. Although the theatre stopped functioning in 1806, it was not until 1971 that the added structure was destroyed and the former church was preserved as a historic landmark. A small garden was created where the four bays of the nave had stood.
- Historical Travel
Cathédrale de Chartres: les Vitraux
No other Mediaeval cathedral in Europe has conserved as many of its original stained glass windows as has the Notre-Dame de Chartres. These windows - 176 in total light up the interior - constitute one of its most celebrated features. The triple lancet windows in the western façade belonged to the previous 12th century Romanesque cathedral, and are the oldest (c. 1150), having miraculously survived the fire of 1194 AD. Similarly, the famous "Notre-Dame de la Belle Verrière" windows (1180) were recovered from the previous cathedral and placed in the southern apse. Otherwise, the rest were mostly executed between 1200 and 1225, with the exception of a few replacements (grisailles in the choir and apse) and later additions (such as those in the Saint-Piat and Vendôme chapels). The transition from Romanesque architecture and its thick supporting walls (thus small windows) to Gothic architecture with flying buttresses for support, allowed openings in the walls to be filled with windows to light up the interior. This provided a medium for coloured glass art to flourish in Europe in the 13th century onwards, and Chartres became known for it and gave us the term "bleu de Chartres". The upper windows of the Cathedral, being further away from the sight of worshipers, are less detailed and typically show a large image of one or two saints. The lower windows, closer to the eyes, are far more intricate and illustrate various Biblical scenes in detail to help educate the largely illiterate population of Mediaeval Europe. During WWII, the windows were painstakingly removed for safekeeping in the countryside, and were only returned after the liberation of Chartres.
Attached are photos of the three magnificent rose windows (1150 - 1230), the windows in Chapelle Vendôme (1417), and a few in the choir area.
For more detailed photos of The stained glass windows of Chartres, take a look at the travelogue: "les Vitraux de la Cathédrale de Chartres".
[Note: when I visited in Dec 2011, the entire ambulatory and apse areas were undergoing restoration and were inaccessible, so I was unable to see the windows in the back of the church.]
- Historical Travel
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