After a long and tiring previous day, we had to get up extra early in order to catch our morning train to Chartres. Located outside of Paris, our journey consisted of traveling on a double-decker train! (I’ve been on such trains before, but every time I go on one I still act like a small child getting all exciting at experiencing something different!) When we arrived at Chartres, we were welcomed by a hazy morning mist which surrounded the top of the cathedral’s western towers. The photo above does not do the scene we saw justice, it was truly magical.
The first thing on our agenda of the day, was heading down to the crypt to have a guided tour. Despite the tour being in French (and my French is not so good!), it was still really interesting to have a look at the previous Romanesque chapels. The crypt of Chartres Cathedral was once used as a hospital, so it seems somewhat surreal to imagine ill people resting below (the crypt was not the warmest of parts of the cathedral, so I have no idea how they coped!)
We also spent our time exploring the various sculpture of the cathedral, including the infamous west royal portal facade. I was lucky enough to go to Chartres on the last History of Art trip to Paris with ‘Death and Devotion in the Gothic Imagination’, and so this time round I was able to really focus on the certain aspects that I had neglected on the previous trip. However, whilst we were looking at the various portals, there was a bitter cold wind surrounding us and it began to rain – just our luck! So after spending time looking at the portals, we dashed inside to attempt to get some warmth, although the interior of the cathedral seemed just as cold as the outside!
The one thing about studying Medieval art that I believe completely changes your perception of it, is actually experiencing the works/objects/architecture in person. It really does change your perception of what you are looking at, and makes you catch a small glimpse into how it would have been perceived so many centuries ago. Obviously we can never actually truly understand what medievals thought about what they were looking at, but I still think it’s fascinating that despite standing in front of the various stained glass windows 800 or so years on, we are seeing what they saw.
Chartres is a lovely place, with quaint cafes and the odd tourist shop. We had a great day looking around the cathedral, and despite the weather being horrible I still really enjoyed my time there.
Sadly our time in Paris had come to an end, and the next day (Friday 21st February) we had to depart to London in order to make our way back to York. In the morning, some friends and I went to Galeries Lafayette, which is an amazing department store located on Boulevard Haussmann. The building is full of amazing designer clothes – labels I can only dream of wearing one day! Once we had travelled through what seemed like a labyrinth we ascended to the top of the building, which hosts a small cafe and some of the most amazing views of Paris. I could not get over the views – absolutely breathtaking. I have been at the top of Notre-Dame Cathedral before, but I think that these views were better! I could not think of a better way to round the trip together.
I had an amazing time in Paris, although we only spent a brief amount of time there. Next year I plan on having a gap year, and will hopefully perfect my French! I would like to spend the year in France to work on improving my French, as the following year I want to go on to complete a masters in Medieval France, specifically relating to the French Medieval Gothic art and architecture – that’s the dream! So coming to Paris this February has intensified and fuelled my desire to make these things happen!