History of Art Department, Life, Paris
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Back from Paris, back to reality

Exterior of Chartres Cathedral

Exterior of Chartres Cathedral


Exterior of Chartres Cathedral

Exterior of Chartres Cathedral

So for some reason WordPress deleted a post that I wrote last week about the last two days of my Paris trip! How annoying. Anyway! So, I have returned from my Paris trip and it was amazing! It really does make a huge difference seeing the objects that you’ve been learning about in person. As  mentioned in a previous post, I went to Paris in the summer and went to some of the places that I returned to on my HoA trip. It was really interesting coming back, with the new knowledge that we have been learning about in the last few weeks, and I cannot believe how I experienced the same spaces in a new light.

For the last few weeks in ‘Death and Devotion’, we have been focusing on the Gothic architecture in Paris, focusing on St Denis, Chartres Cathedral (just a little outside Paris) and Saint-Chapelle.

It was great to see Chartres in person. I have never been there before, and it was incredible to get the opportunity to explore. The cathedral was a popular pilgrimage site back in the Middle Ages due to possessing a relic believed to be of the Virgin Mary – a contact relic in the form of a tunic, believed to have been worn during the Nativity. When at Chartres, we saw the fabric that is believed to be this tunic. I am not an active religious person as such, but have been brought up as a Catholic and would still consider myself to be one; so for me, seeing this relic was incredibly moving. Not only because it is believed to have been worn by the Virgin Mary, but because of the sheer power that it would have had for medieval believers back in the day. Walking from home, where ever that be, all the way to Chartres to see or hopefully touch the relic, seems incredibly to me. Yet, so many people do these types of pilgrimages today.

Another aspect of the Gothic cathedral was the various portals around the exterior. We must have spent over 30 minutes on each facade discussing what was going on iconographically. Having studied these sculptures for before coming, it was great to see them and apply the knowledge that we have been absorbing the last few weeks!

Next term I am doing a module called: ‘The cult of the Virgin Mary’, and one of the places we explore is Chartres Cathedral! So who knows if I’ll be back again.

Inside the Sainte-Chapelle - Isn't beautiful!

Inside the Sainte-Chapelle – Isn’t beautiful!





Ah, the Sainte-Chapelle. One of my favourite religious spaces! If you haven’t been, you must. The expansive stained glass seems to absorb you into the space, creating this amazing mixture of light and colour. Our tutor, Emily, has been working on PHD which revolves around the Sainte-Chapelle, focusing on the wall-paintings. It was great to have someone so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the Sainte-Chapelle to bring everything we’ve been learning together. Emily’s enthusiasm has definitely made it’s mark on me, and I absolutely love this chapel. We were lucky enough to be allowed to go behind and under the Tribune and see a painting that Emily has been working on un-earthing (I’ll include this image when I post my photos from my trip in another post!).




As well as seeing the amazing religious spaces in and around Paris, we went to the Cluny Museum to explore their collection of medieval art. During one of the afternoons, me and some friends ventured off to the Lourve to look at the various medieval objects there. What is sad about the Lourve’s collection, is the fact that they’ve labelled the medieval works as ‘decorative arts’. I don’t know about you, but these objects are far from such a label! Ultimately, all the various pieces of stained-glass, liturgical objects, bibles, reliquaries etc all had a fundamental purpose, hence why they were created. They were all vehicles to accessing the divine, and all had the function to help the religious believer to connect to God. Also, pretty much all of the objects on show would probably have been used during the mass, so how the Lourve have come up with the title of ‘decorative arts’ to label them, I have no idea.

Overall, the Paris trip was incredible. It was informative, interesting and fun. On the last night we had a massive meal where all the different modules came together to wine and dine. For those who think the medieval period is nothing more than part of ‘the dark ages’, how wrong you are. You only have to set foot in the Sainte-Chapelle to see that this notion is literally the opposite!

This entry was posted in: History of Art Department, Life, Paris


Roisin Astell received a First Class Honours in History of Art at the University of York (2014), under the supervision of Dr Emanuele Lugli. After spending a year learning French in Paris, Roisin then completed an MSt. in Medieval Studies at the University of Oxford (2016), where she was supervised by Professor Gervase Rosser and Professor Martin Kauffmann. In 2017, Roisin was awarded a CHASE AHRC studentship as a doctoral candidate at the University of Kent’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, under the supervision of Dr Emily Guerry.


    • roisingrace says

      Thanks Hannah! Ah, the Royal Spaces module sounds really interesting from what I have heard. I really like your blog by the way, it seems like you’re doing great stuff since completing your BA; the Digital models of St Mary’s Abbey look really cool!


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