Monday, April 19, 2010

Voyage to the magic: Cathedral of Chartres

There is a small town some sixty miles southwest of Paris, Chartres, barely forty thousand inhabitants; around the Mediterranean there are thousands of similar villages. But Chartres... is something else. It is a town of which tons have been written about the mysteries of its cathedral

The first mystery of the Chartres Cathedral is the cathedral. The town's name comes from Civitas Carnutum, city of Carnutes, “Carnutes” being a Celtic people in the heart of the Gaul’s portion independent of Rome, something like the Asterix comics. That gives this place a long tradition of pagan Druids, with its colorful legends of astronomy, medicine and human sacrifices and, of course, one of the most important temples left in this place.

Then a Christian temple was built upon the Celtic sanctuary. According to legend, Charlemagne gave the town a robe of the Virgin Mary and, when the temple caught fire, after three days emerged from the wreckage several monks carrying the Holy Shirt intact. It was a miracle and to accommodate it, the church was rebuilt in the new Gothic style: a magnificent cathedral begun in 1195.

And so the questions begin. Chartres Cathedral is a titan: it has the world's most voluminous vault, a maximum height of 377,3 ft. and the cruiser has 364 ft. (compared to 426,5 ft. of Notre Dame de Paris). It could accommodate 40,000 people snugly, the current population of Chartres, more capacity that many rock concerts. The cathedral is visible six miles away, it was the first example of Gothic, and for some experts neither Notre Dame nor Cologne is the best example of this style, but Chartres.

The measurements of the cathedral are full of symbolism, to give a few: the 110.7 meters of the cruiser are related to the 1107 kilometers traveled by a point on the earth's crust over a year around the sun. The mean measure used in the cathedral was the "elbow of chartres" which is the one hundred thousandth part of the parallel where the church stands. And in the most famous phenomenon, on 21 June, the day of the summer solstice, Celtic sacred date, enter a stained glass window a ray of sunshine that illuminates a slab different from the others.

The truth is that ever since when Louis Charpentier in 1965 popularized the issue of the slab beam in a fun but not very rigorous book about Gothic art many questions have arised and the most curious one is: why nobody had thought of that before?

To build a building like that today would take a respectable amount of time. Now imagine building it in the thirteenth century in twenty-six years, with so much mathematics in its design. We are talking about an army of carpenters, masons, wheelwrights, sculptors, painters, glassmakers and put in the mix food, accommodation, families etc. All other cathedrals were built over literally centuries; Chartres never lacked money or labor. All this in a town that had absolutely nothing and a population of barely five thousand souls; even putting all the people in the cathedral it still looked empty. Why such an effort in this place, while Paris had to stop his church for lack of money, having comparable relics and much more political importance? Why bring to this remote place the best minds from far away lands to raise such a monument, where no taxes nor nobility would pay for it?

Here are the Templars. And the constellation Virgo

Lets burst the balloon of the most famous mystery, the summer solstice. The fuss is because the level of medieval mathematics made it almost impossible such an accurate calculation and therefore some kind of superior intelligence (aliens are a favorite) must be involved. On the one hand, the Druids built Stonehenge thousands of years before Christ and that pile of stone makes more interesting things than calculating the summer solstice (if you say Stonehenge itself was built by aliens I’ll have to ask for proof). The most important is that the stained glass and the slab of Charpentier’s story were set in 1705, not in the original building, when astronomy was far more developed. But the rest of the mathematics of Chartres, while less spectacular, is more challenging.

Now, here are the Templars. Those bankers-monks-warriors were the patrons of the cathedral. According to legend, in their excavations at the Temple of Solomon they found the remains of the Ark of the Covenant, the tablets of the Ten Commandments or something like that and learned the "perfect" measures the divine mind used: in other words, measures used by God when he created the world.

Without going that far, the church was built in Chartres because there was the Temple of the Carnutes. What has to do a Christian church with the Celtics? The modern interpretation says the church built its temples in places of heathen worship trying to reduce the negative reaction of peoples determined to protect their ancient customs so the christianization would be easier. There’s something of that, but in this case is not the whole explanation.

There’s a constellation with a curious history: Virgo. Most civilizations linked it to the "Great Mother" provider of food and fertility. This is true for Celts, Egyptians and Greeks, the latter being the ones who bequeathed the constellation to us in the zodiac. While other constellations changed their names or configuration, Virgo remained unabated.

The truth is the Templars did not want a Christian church, in the strict sense, but Marian. And they wanted it in Chartres because the Celts had their temples located so they mimic exactly on land (or at least as much as the topography and the Roman legions allowed) Virgo settings. Paris was doing its job already, Reims was the site of coronation of kings ... if the Templars wanted to replicate the star map they would have to do the work at Chartres, that god forsaken town. And they undertook the task with its endless coffers.

Why was it important to reproduce the cosmic map? Here again comes in the legend for nobody knows for sure. The idea is found in an ancient mystical text: "As it is above, so it is below" and there are similar configurations of buildings in Egypt or Persia or India and the Templars surely knew. The most well-worn argument is that there are underground energy currents in the earth and these buildings stimulate them, just like acupuncture needles would do, but it has also benn said they were on points marking portals to hell or airfields for angels (now UFO). What is clear is that the work was done and it is impossible to consider it a coincidence when comparing the astronomical maps and layout of cathedrals.
In a future post, if you find this interesting, we talk about the iconography of the Ark in the Cathedral, the holy well and its mysterious labyrinth of penance

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