We woke this morning quite early due to the jet-lag, about 6am. There wasn't much to do, but fall back asleep. Both of us were very disappointed at having missed out on the illuminations, and more disappointed that the rain was still coming down, only what appeared to be quite heavily now.
We eventually got ourselves moving about 9am, and loaded up the car with luggage, before we went out site seeing. We had a magnificent view of the cathedral, but neither of us decided to take a picture before checking out, so we weren't off to the best of starts.
First thing first however, we walked up to the commercial area to buy an umbrella or two. Tess had seen one in a shop the previous day, but we didn't go in to get it at that stage. We walked through the town and I found the Monoprix, which is like a Coles x K mart. Tess wanted to go back to the store she'd seen the day before, and sure enough there was an umbrella in the window. We went down three sets of stairs of designer men's clothing, to find the umbrellas. They were only 130 euro each. We decided to leave the store and go back to the Monoprix.
Although it was raining, it was still quite warm, about 22 degrees. After we got our umbrellas, we went to a boulangerie to get some breakfast. We got some pain au chocolate (choc croissant) and an almond croissant. I love almond croissants, and have missed the dearly. Nothing like getting them when they are still warm and a bit buttery. We walked through some back streets of the commercial district, and towards the cathedral.
Tess and I went inside, and I suggested she go look at one of the chapels which had a very large altar piece which was gold gilded on what looked like black marble. I went to find out how we could get on a tour of the crypts. We had to go outside for this, and through to the “Crypts” shop. On the way out of the cathedral grounds, you had to walk through a metal fence. I walked through first, tilting my umbrella. Tess had hers low to cover her hair, and missed that I tilted my umbrella. Hers caught on the gate and bent one of the frame supports. The day was not getting any better quickly!
I went in and got the two tickets. Unfortunately the tours of the crypts are only in French. For all other languages, they give you an A4 handout to read. We started the tour, and the tour guide said about 500 words in 2 minutes. The A4 sheet had this area highlighted as 1 on the mini map. Next to 1. in the text, there was 2 sentence. Obviously things translate very well in English!
We then turned left and went through a wooden wall/door. There was some discussion here, and some pointing to frescoes which had some of the saints which the Church is inspired by, including Mary. I thought French was a very efficient language, but this guide was obviously showing otherwise! After we left this room, which we were in for 5-10 minutes (which again had a very small 4 sentence paragraph describing it on our English guide), we walked back through the wooden door, and began to here a noise like a choir nearby.
Our guide asked us to stand aside, and we moved into one of the chapels. Shortly after, a group of 30-40 people came walking past us very slowly. They were in 2 lines, and were chanting something which I did not understand, yet which sounded very very powerful and pleasing to the ears. There seemed to be two chants going on or at least one chant repeated by two groups. Kind of like what most of us did in primary school with row, row, row your boat. To say that the singing was moving would be an understatement. It left a lump in my throat, and Tess said she felt weird because she wanted to cry but didn't understand what they were saying.
We moved through several chapels after that group had passed, and then on to a well. The well has historical significance, in that it is believed the Romans would throw Christian martyrs in it as punishment when they controlled Gaul. It had a square base, yet the well itself was circular. The well has become known as the “Well of the strong saints”.
After the well, the guide took us into a small hall which was part of the Carolingian church. This area of the church had been badly damaged by fire. Many of the frescoes on its walls and ceiling are stained with smoke damage. In the transept of this little area however is a very important relic. The relic itself is locked behind a wrought iron cage door. It's about 18 inches tall perhaps, and in the base of it are three pieces of cloth, known as the Sancta Camisa. The Sancta Camisa is allegedly the camisole that Mary wore when she gave birth to Christ. It is said that Charlemagne was given this by Emperor Constantine, however that is supposedly fiction as Charlemagne never went to the crusades to receive it as the legend says.
After seeing the relic, the tour went underground further, to show an altar, and a pillar which supposedly goes all the way to the cathedrals rooftop. There was some historical significance about where we were, as the tour guide talked for quite a while here, but it was lost to me. After this, the tour ended and we went back up to ground level where the rain had stopped. We took some photos of the exterior, then went inside to walk around the ambulatory. This was all closed on my previous visit to Chartres, as the church was undergoing restorative works.
The works around the high altar and the ambulatory were now complete. The dark grey stone has been replaced by a newer, white stone that looked out of place (to me) in a classic Gothic style. I like my cathedrals to look old and worn, particularly ones which are over 500 years old. Luckily, the amazing stained glass windows have been restored as well. There are many here in this church which look outstanding, and put some of the more well known churches to shame (Yes Notre Dame de Paris, I'm looking at you!)
When we finished looking at the renovated altar area, we moved down the nave towards the main entrance, where I was still looking to find the famous labyrinth of Chartres cathedral. The first time I had come, I did not see the labyrinth, so I wasn't going to miss it this time. Funnily enough, I don't know how I missed it the first time. It is huge, is right near the front door of the church (about 25m in) and had a bunch of people queuing up to walk through the maze. The labyrinth however is not a game, and a sign asks people to treat it seriously. To walk slowly through it, and reflect upon their life. It asks you to be mindful of those around you, and respectful of them. If (when) you make it to the centre, it is seeing as being as one with Jesus's heart.
I don't know if I believe in any of that stuff (actually, I do know, and I don't!) but for the people doing the slow, deliberate walk, you could see the purpose in their eyes. Whatever it is about this type of environment, it enriched their experience, and who am I to argue with that?
We left the cathedral after this, and went back to the hotel to collect our car. The next stop on our journey is a quick trip to Chambord, whilst on our way to Amboise, where we will stay for the next few nights.