Chartres Cathedral, West Front, Central Portal--page 1

begun 1145; burned in 1194 except for the west front; rebuilt 1205-1220

The town of Chartres had been a center for the cult of the Virgin throughout the middle ages since it possessed a statue of Mary, reportedly carved by St. Luke, as well as the "sacred Tunic," supposedly worn by the Virgin at the time of the birth of Christ. The people of Chartres believed that this sacred relic acted as their protector. When the first "early Gothic" cathedral (as well as much of the town) burned in 1194, the rebuilding was considered futile, since the townspeople believed they had been deserted by their protector. However, a representative of the Pope persuaded the citizens to rebuild the cathedral. Now it is one of most famous cathedrals in France, defined as an exemplar of the "High Gothic" style. The facade, executed earlier (before the fire), is early Gothic.
The central tympanum illustrates the Apocalypse with a central Christ surrounded by four beasts (Revelations 4-5); the twenty-four Elders and angels are in the voussoirs. The tympanum to the left depicts Christ's Incarnation, the one to the right, his Ascension; thus the three tympana read together present a unified theme: Christ's entry into human history, his departure, and the end of time. This kind of unity, much more complex than suggested here, is typical of Gothic sculptural programs.

The central portal and tympanum with Christ in Majesty in a mandorla surrounded by the four apocalyptic beasts


The beasts of the Apocalypse--lion and ox

The four Evangelists are represented as four winged creatures: Mark, a lion, Luke, an ox, John, an eagle, and Matthew, a man.

The lintel of the central tympanum

Fourteen figures occupy the lintel, identified as the twelve apostles, to whom Christ said at the Last Supper, "You shall sit on thrones as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:30) and Enoch and Elijah at either end.


Voussoirs with the twenty-four Elders and Angels

The voussoirs are part of the main scene illustrating the Vision of St. John (Revelations 4:2-8); the Elders wear crowns and carry harps.

From the west facade, see also the north portal, the south portal, the frieze of capitals, and the jambs.

From the South Transept, see also South Transept and Central Portal and jamb statues and side tympanum.

From the North Transept, see also central portal tympanum and jambs and the tympana of the side portals.

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Copyright © Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.

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