I recently watched a beautiful documentary called Chartre: Master of the Sacred Compass, a cathedral that was built to create an earthly palace for the “heavenly Queen Mary” in the 12th century. The cathedral’s sacredness and holiness was beautifully depicted through lovely music, beautiful photography and through the sincere comments of those interviewed. I am so glad that I watched this DVD since it has helped me plan how I want to see the cathedral and it has given me some information that will deepen my appreciation of this beautiful 12th century cathedral.
As I approach this cathedral, I intend to stop at a distance in order to see its full height and then as my eyes slowly progress downward, I hope that I will be able to visialize how the cathedral is built in the proportions of the human body since a human is made in the image of God. And as I look at the two towers, it will be helpful to remember the words of the commentator who said that they remind us to never give up, to stand up and keep on! As I focus on the taller tower, I will marvel that its 365 feet reflects 365 days in a year and as I look at the shorter tower I will marvel that each foot of its 28 feet represent one night of a moon cycle!
Because I am an information gatherer, my first instinct is to open my guidebook and to walk through the cathedral busily locating what I am reading. Therefore, I felt quite convicted when one of the pastors in the documentary commented that the cathedral is designed to open us up as persons, but often tourists miss having a spiritual experience because they are watching the time, or talking too much or reading their guide books or they are looking through their camera lenses. I believe information about the cathedral is helpful but I plan on reading much of it before I get there so that I can be more sensitive to what I may be experiencing as I slowly walk through the cathedral. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity for self discovery and perhaps discovery of my relationship to God that one person spoke of in this DVD because I wasn’t paying attention.
I have decided that one of the first things I will do upon entering the building is to sit in one of the pews and pretend I am one of the pilgrims who cannot read or write and who interacts with God through the Bible stories created in stained glass. I will try to set aside my written knowledge of these stories in order to better experience what I as an illiterate pilgrim would be thinking, feeling and experiencing.
Later, I will remember to walk quietly, perhaps even prayerfully through the cathedral recalling the words of a narrator who said that this cathedral is a “microcosm of the universe and a metaphor of our own life journey.” I will begin at the north portal which starts with Adam and Eve to the last judgment on the south portal so that I will experience the whole history of humanity. Interestingly, the last judgment isn’t seen with horror but instead, God’s Love is apparent. And as I walk, will I see glimpses of my life journey and perhaps Gods love for me on that journey?
Recalling this documentary will certainly elevate my sense of wonder when I try to comprehend how this massive building could have been built without our standard measurements – but with a compass! And perhaps I will better appreciate what the Chartre’ scholar of 35 years was trying to convey when he said that no one knows where these men got the courage to build these high arches which provided more light, where they got the courage to install all these stained glass windows without fearing that the flying buttresses couldn’t sustain the weight of the walls. And then he provides his answer professing that even though some people may not like this answer, there is a strong likelihood that they were confident of their mastery of the compass and they were confident that they were being guided through Divine Inspiration! Well! That is certainly a different perspective from our scientific and rational age. When I walk through this sacred building, I want to be reminded that science and rational thought isn’t the be all and that sometimes we need to take that “leap of faith” that Kierkegaard phrased.
As I walk outside, I hope that I can find the statue of Saint Gregory who is listening to a small bird whispering to him. Some believe the bird was revealing to him the chant named after him. And as I stand in front of it, I will softly repeat Saint Gregory’s wise words, “God is both one and the same, and holy everywhere, imminent with in everything, without everything, above everything and below everything “.
Finally, as I prepare to leave, I will remember how this project must have been divinely orchestrated since I learned that this project inspired people so that “all hearts were united and each man forgave his enemies!” One pastor commented on the DVD that “It’s our forgetfulness about sacredness – so that these buildings are reminders.” Therefore, I will look one last time and whisper my gratitude to the men and women who enthusiastically supported this building project so that I could step on holy ground.
This documentary also increased my desire to know more about labyrinths especially when I learned that this labyrinth has the same number of stones as the days an infant stays in his mothers womb. In this way the cathedral shows man that life is a gestation, a preparation for life in heaven! I have already reserved books from the library to learn more about the Chartre labyrinth.