The gothic cathedral that stands in the French town of Chartres is the sixth church or cathedral constructed on that site over 1,500 years. Although the present cathedral is recognized as a place for Christian pilgrimages, it is considered mysterious.
Before the Gauls inhabited this region on the River Eure about 60 miles southwest of Paris, some ancient priests of an unknown religion constructed a dolmen (two or more large upright stones with a space in between and covered by a large horizontal rock) and a well within a mound. The Druids, Celtic priests of Gaul and Britain, made the mound and dolmen a center for the study of their religion. Here a Druid priest had a vision of a virgin who would bear a child. To honor the vision, an image of the virgin with the babe resting on her knee was carved from a peach tree and placed next to the well and the power point within the dolmen.
When the first Christians appropriated the area in the third century, they built the first church dedicated to Our Lady on the site of the dolmen, mound, and well and placed the image of the Black Virgin in the church's crypt. The Duke of Aquitania burned the first church in 743; Vikings destroyed the second in 858. The third and fourth churches were burned in 962 and 1020, and the first of the cathedrals was destroyed by fire in 1194. Each time the place of worship was burned or crumbled, faithful Christian townspeople, builders, and architects appeared to rebuild the structure. But the identity of the master builders who constructed the majestic Chartres Cathedral that stands there today remains unknown.
Images of Chartres Cathedral. [Online] http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/chartreswest/centralportal.html.
Westwood, Jennifer, ed. Mysterious Places. New York: Galahad Books, 1987.
Chartres (shär´trə), city (1990 pop. 41,850), capital of Eure-et-Loir dept., NW France, in Orléanais, on the Eure River. Chartres is of great historic and artistic interest; it is also a regional market with many industries, including metallurgy, and the production of perfumes and electronic equipment. An ancient town, it was the probable site of the great assemblies of the druids. The Normans burned it in 858. During the Middle Ages Chartres was the seat of a countship; it became a possession of the French crown in 1286. Francis I made it a duchy in 1528. Chartres' fame today stems largely from its magnificent Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame (12th to 13th cent.), remarkable for its two spires (375 ft/114 m and 350 ft/107 m), its stained glass windows, and its superb sculpture. It is widely considered to be the finest Gothic cathedral in the world. Henry Adams in Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres made it a symbol of the medieval spirit. Inside the cathedral St. Bernhard of Clairvaux preached the Second Crusade (1146) and Henry IV was crowned king of France (1594).
CHARTRES (Heb. קרטוש), French town, about 52 mi. (85 km.) S.W. of Paris. The importance of the Jewish community in Chartres during the Middle Ages, whose existence is attested to as early as 1130, is illustrated by the numerous street names which still exist, such as Rue aux Juifs, Ruelle aux Juifs, Place aux Juifs, and Cul-de-sac des Juifs. The Saint-Hilaire Hospital is believed to have once been a synagogue. The remains of another synagogue still existed in 1736. Probably as a consequence of the general expulsions in 1306 and 1321, Jews from Chartres are found in Aouste-sur-Sye in 1331 and in Serre in 1349. The scholars of Chartres included Mattathias, a highly esteemed contemporary of Rashi, the liturgical poet Samuel b. Reuben of Chartres, and Joseph of Chartres, who wrote a biblical commentary and an elegy on the York martyrs of 1190.
Gross, Gal Jud, 602ff.; P. Buisson and P. Bellier de la Chavignerie, Tableau de… Chartres (1896), 84–89.