Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres
The north transept rose window in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres
This is my photo of June 26, 2011. The weather was perfect.
(the north transept runs to the left in the picture)
The feast of Corpus Christi holds some memories for me: it was on this feast in 1972 that I was the principal celebrant and preached at my first Mass. On another memorable feast of Corpus Christi I found myself at the Sunday morning Mass in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Chartres, one of the great Gothic cathedrals in France. Chartres has been a sacred religious site for millennia, a place where a pre-Christian people prayed for a healthy harvest and for safe childbirth. Now the huge Cathedral of Our Lady dominates the town, a structure of beauty commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ in the flesh through the body of the Virgin Mother Mary. The Mass was just starting when I entered the nave of priceless stained glass, of soaring stone and organ music. It overwhelmed me.
Of course, the Body of Christ at Mass might find a home in places of natural beauty, too; there are natural spaces in so many locales in which one feels close to God. I am sure that people have celebrated Mass, for example, overlooking the Grand Canyon to great consolation. Jesus could well enjoy the beauties of God’s creative powers.
But I suspect that Jesus welcomes more the celebration of Mass in churches fashioned by the creative hands of the human spirit. In the Cathedral at Chartres, for example, artists refined the natural beauty of stone and glass to make a palatial home for Mary and her Child.
Jesus finds himself welcome there because the builders created not simply a memorial to their God-given skills, skills like those developed by Jesus in his own life. But more to the point, the builders created a fitting place for Mary and Jesus to be present to the faithful, a place, too, in which we can be at home with them. Such are the medieval Cathedrals, refuges from war and plague, from hunger and illness.