It was the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral that drew us.
But it was the entire village of Chartres that captured my heart and swept me back in time.
It is trite to say this tiny town in France, 50 miles south of Paris, looked like a Disney movie set, but in my over-consumerized American mind, that was in my thoughts. It was so old, ancient. Streets and homes curved. There were arches in allies, detailed stonework, and a meandering river flowing through the town center.
The famous cathedral that looms over all the village was built in Medieval times, around 1140, and is known as one of the greatest achievements in the history of architecture. It is almost perfectly preserved in its original design and detail. Because of this, it’s been a pilgrimage destination since the Middle Ages.
Pilgrims, like my group, coming to experience its beauty, its mysticism, its quiet holiness.
The gray stoned, gothic cathedral is massive. The vaulted ceilings, the nave, the flying buttresses and spires, and the stained glass rose windows need to be slowly savored and appreciated by the visitors who enter.
One evening, unexpectedly, we discovered a college choir from Minnesota was going to sing in the cathedral. I will never forget it. With a twinge of longing for my own country, I listened, rapt by their talent and angel-like voices twirling and floating to the tip-top of the cathedral.
Their singing brought me to tears. At the end, they all donned maroon berets to honor their French hosts – nice touch.
Saturday was the farmers market – a gorgeous setting in any country, but amazing in Chartres – the cheeses and breads, the saucisson, the fruits and vegetables, the French townspeople squeezing the products, carefully selecting le poisson for dinner and fragrant flowers, laying their purchases in straw baskets carried over their arms or baskets on bikes.
I sat at an outdoor café for what seemed like hours, captivated, people watching, sipping a complimentary tiny glass of French champagne with cassis, eating slowly a ham/bread salad – the May sun (and the alcohol) warming me.
I never want to forget what it looked like, smelled like, sounded like…and most importantly, felt like to me.