Labyrinths of Light- Gothic Cathedrals

Chartres Cathedral & Grace Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral: begun 1145; in 1194 was burned, excluding the west front; it was then rebuilt 1205-1220

Key Features Include:

• Pointed arches

• Rib-and-panel vaults ( up to 121 feet )

• External Flying buttresses- enabled skeletal stone walls to hold the stain glass windows-

• The nave- at 52 feet- is wider than any other Cathedral in Frances

• Within the center is a maze, of winding passages (320 yards) ( see *Labyrinths)

• Dedicated to the Virgin Mary

• Site of Druid ceremonies

• Ligand of Christian martyrs who were thrown into a well in the crypt of the Cathedral

• Built for large congregation of worshipers

• High Gothic Features:

Alternate cylindrical /octagonal columns

• 176 original stain glass windows- most complete medieval set in the world- covering over 22,000 feet

• Pilgrimage to the relic of the “veil” within the Cathedral, a veil that was believed to have been worn by Mary whilst she was giving birth to Jesus Christ. The relic of the skull of St. Anne, was said to have also been housed there.

• Nave has only 3 stages: nave arcade, triforium & clerestory.

• Rose widow- 40 feet in diameter

Sacred Geometry of the Chartres Cathedral:

Since no rulers/unites of lengths were measured in designing the construction plans, the master architects would use their compasses or dividers to define proportion. This is really something amazing! These harmonious patterns, as found in the cannons of human proportions, enabled the architects to use the same measurement techniques as if they were creating the ideal human form…this can even be interpreted as designing the image of God! If you were to lay down a rendering of the West front of the Cathedral directly atop the body of the Cathedral, these patterns would continue to connect. Including, the indoor labyrinth and the west Rose Window- falling directly in alignment with each other.


Grace Cathedral:

Began construction in 1849,during the Gold Rush in San Francisco – Completed in 1964

• Designed by Lewis Hobard in French Gothic style ( home town of Chartres influenced the design)

• Gothic inspiration can be seen in the 35 foot wide indoor labyrinth- a replica of the floor of the Chartres Cathedral, and also an outdoor labyrinth – another replica of the Chartres.

• The Rose window of Chartres is a geometric pattern that is also used in the Grace Cathedral’s Rose, and implemented within the entire design of the Cathedral – going hand in hand with the Gothic style known as “Rayonnant”- marking the height of Gothic Architecture, with detail in decoration being becoming very important.

->Here is a great little visual on the process of sacred Rose design

• Gothic elements :

– Pointed arches

– Emphases on windows- and flooding light into the cathedral

– Sculpture re-introduced

– Gothic sway

– Glass stained windows (including the twin lancet and oculus windows & chelestray windows)

– Plate tracery windows

– Ribbed Vaulting- enabled the weight to distribute down, rather than out.


Chartres Labyrinth


Walking the sacred path of the Labyrinth is an ancient practice- by rediscovering one’s self, and puts in perspective of one’s spiritual life. It is a one path design, where there are no decisions that need to be made where to walk, just the journey and joy of moving forward. The Chartres design labyrinth is a 11 circuit labyrinth, with the 12th being the center of the labyrinth. During Easter Sunday, at the Labyrinth of Chartres, there would be games and dances that took place. There would be dancing and chanting by officers of the cathedral, and even a game of “Pilota” were a leather ball would be thrown back and forth from the Dean (standing in the center), to the clergy as they danced through the labyrinth. It is really a beautiful sight to imagine! At the labyrinth of Grace’s Cathedral, there is a similar use of this design – along with walking the maze of the labyrinth; there are events that take place right in the center of the labyrinth. Yoga on the Labyrinth for example, is a weekly event that takes place. There is live music, and is an open event to all creed/religions. To practice yoga among the heavenly glistening shards of light that shower the cathedrals labyrinth is something I plan to experience!

Grace’s Rose Window:


Chartres Rose Window:


This Geometry of the scared Rose is applied not only to the Stain Glass window, but the entire construction of Graces Cathedral!


Works Cited:

“Chartres Labyrinth FAQs.” Chartres Labyrinth FAQs. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

“Images of Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France–page 1.” Images of Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France–page 1. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

“Building the Great Cathedrals.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

“Chartres Cathedral History.” History of Chartres Cathedral. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.


“Gardner’s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective, Volume 1.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

#Cathedral #geometry #sacred #Grace #ceremony

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