Chartres Cathedral and the Origins of the Gothic Era Lecture Series Gothic Cathedrals

Chartres Cathedral and the Origins of the Gothic Era

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José Luis Corral


  1. José Luis CorralJosé Luis CorralEs catedrático acreditado en Historia Medieval y director del Taller de Historia de la Universidad de Zaragoza. Es autor de más de 300 libros y artículos de Historia, entre otros Breve Historia de la Orden del Temple, Una historia de España o El enigma de las catedrales. Mitos y símbolos de las catedrales góticas; y escritor de novelas históricas como El Cid, La prisionera de Roma o El caballero del Templo.

Within the long hundred years spanning from the beginnings of the 12th century to the mid 13th century, eighty cathedrals were initiated in the kingdom of France and its vassal states, and some hundreds more across the rest of Europe, together with thousands of abbeys, monasteries, and churches. In order to build them, tens of thousands of artisans (masons, carpenters, bricklayers, blacksmiths, glassmakers, carriers, etc.) were mobilized. Since 1140 when the the abbot of the powerful Saint-Denis Abbey, the influential Suger, commissioned his anonymous architect the construction of the apse for his new church using wide openings to allow the entry of streams of light, the medieval architects began to experiment with architectonic solutions that would allow opening the heavy and massive walls of the Romanic churches to install increasingly bigger and wider windows.

The writer Paul Claudel (1868-1955), enraptured by the imposing beauty of the Chartres Cathedral, exclaimed the following: "Here is Paradise recovered!". And the truth is that the Chartres Cathedral was indeed conceived as an image of Paradise. It was not by chance, because at least since the 10th century Chartres had a great school, in which at the beginning of the 12th century the great Bernard of Chartres was master. He was the author of the famous quote "We are are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants". That same school was also the training ground of John of Salisbury (1115-1178) who was author of Polycraticus, the first first medieval treatise on civil power, and who became Bishop of the city.

A not proven tradition claims that the constructors of the gothic cathedrals called themselves "the children of Solomon"; and there are definitely a few miniatures dating from the 13th century that represent the Temple of Solomon as a golden gothic cathedral. That was precisely the intention when Gothic art was created. The demons flee from light because light comes from God. in the book of Genesis it is written that the Lord ordered to let there be light, and there was light. The Lord ended the darkness the wrapped the universe, and Christ defeated the demon whose purpose is no other than ending the light that redeems man's sins. And the Cathedral of Chartres is one of its most brilliant examples.