At least five cathedrals have stood on this site, each replacing an earlier building damaged by war or fire. The first church dated from no later than the 4th century and was located at the base of a Gallo-Roman wall; this was put to the torch in 743 on the orders of the Duke of Aquitaine. The second church on the site was set on fire by Danish pirates in 858. This was then reconstructed and enlarged by Bishop Gislebert, but was itself destroyed by fire in 1020. A vestige of this church, now known as Saint Lubin Chapel, remains, underneath the apse of the present cathedral. It took its name from Lubinus, the mid-6th-century Bishop of Chartres. It is lower than the rest of the crypt and may have been the shrine of a local saint, prior to the church's rededication to the Virgin Mary.
In 962 the church was damaged by another fire and was reconstructed yet again. A more serious fire broke out on 7 September 1020, after which Bishop Fulbert (bishop from 1006 to 1028) decided to build a new cathedral. He appealed to the royal houses of Europe, and received generous donations for the rebuilding, including a gift from Cnut the Great, King of Norway, Denmark and much of England. The new cathedral was constructed atop and around the remains of the 9th-century church. It consisted of an ambulatory around the earlier chapel, surrounded by three large chapels with Romanesque barrel vault and groin vault ceilings, which still exist. On top of this structure he built the upper church, 108 meters long and 34 meters wide. The rebuilding proceeded in phases over the next century, culminating in 1145 in a display of public enthusiasm dubbed the "Cult of the Carts" – one of several such incidents recorded during the period. It was claimed that during this religious outburst, a crowd of more than a thousand penitents dragged carts filled with building supplies and provisions including stones, wood, grain, etc. to the site.
In 1134, another fire in the town damaged the facade and the bell tower of the cathedral. Construction had already begun on the north tower in the mid-1120s, which was capped with a wooden spire around 1142. The site for the south tower was occupied by the Hotel Dieu that was damaged in the fire. Excavations for that tower were begun straight away. As it rose the sculpture for the Royal Portal (most of which had been carved beforehand) was integrated with the walls of the south tower. The square of the tower was changed to an octagon for the spire just after the Second Crusade. It was finished about 1165 and reached a height of 105 metres or 345 feet, one of the highest in Europe. There was a narthex between the towers and a chapel devoted to Saint Michael. Traces of the vaults and the shafts which supported them are still visible in the western two bays. The stained glass in the three lancet windows over the portals dates from some time before 1145. The Royal Portal on the west facade, between the towers, the primary entrance to the cathedral, was probably finished a year or so after 1140.Fire and reconstruction (1194–1260)
On the night of 10 June 1194, another major fire devastated the cathedral. Only the crypt, the towers, and the new facade survived. The cathedral was already known throughout Europe as a pilgrimage destination, due to the reputed relics of the Virgin Mary that it contained. A legate of the Pope happened to be in Chartres at the time of the fire, and spread the word. Funds were collected from royal and noble patrons across Europe, as well as small donations from ordinary people. Reconstruction began almost immediately. Some portions of the building had survived, including the two towers and the royal portal on the west end, and these were incorporated into the new cathedral.
The nave, aisles, and lower levels of the transepts of the new cathedral were probably completed first, then the choir and chapels of the apse; then the upper parts of the transept. By 1220 the roof was in place. The major portions of the new cathedral, with its stained glass and sculpture, were largely finished within just twenty-five years, extraordinarily rapid for the time. The cathedral was formally re-consecrated in October 1260, in the presence of King Louis IX of France, whose coat of arms was painted over the entrance to the apse.Later modifications (13th–18th centuries) and the Coronation of Henry IV of France
Relatively few changes were made after this time. An additional seven spires were proposed in the original plans, but these were never built. In 1326, a new two-storey chapel, dedicated to Saint Piatus of Tournai, displaying his relics, was added to the apse. The upper floor of this chapel was accessed by a staircase opening onto the ambulatory. (The chapel is normally closed to visitors, although it occasionally houses temporary exhibitions.) Another chapel was opened in 1417 by Louis, Count of Vendôme, who had been captured by the English at the Battle of Agincourt and fought alongside Joan of Arc at the siege of Orléans. It is located in the fifth bay of the south aisle and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Its highly ornate Flamboyant Gothic style contrasts with the earlier chapels.
In 1506, lightning destroyed the north spire, which was rebuilt in the 'Flamboyant' style from 1507 to 1513 by architect Jean Texier. When he finished this, he began constructing a new jubé or Rood screen that separated the ceremonial choir space from the nave, where the worshippers sat.
On 27 February 1594, King Henry IV of France was crowned in Chartres Cathedral, rather than the traditional Reims Cathedral, since both Paris and Reims were occupied at the time by the Catholic League. The ceremony took place in the choir of the church, after which the King and the Bishop mounted the rood screen to be seen by the crowd in the nave. After the ceremony and a mass, they moved to the residence of the bishop next to the cathedral for a banquet.
In 1753, further modifications were made to the interior to adapt it to new theological practices. The stone pillars were covered with stucco, and the tapestries which hung behind the stalls were replaced by marble reliefs. The rood screen that separated the liturgical choir from the nave was torn down and the present stalls were built. At the same time, some of the stained glass in the clerestory was removed and replaced with grisaille windows, greatly increasing the light on the high altar in the center of the church.French Revolution and 19th century
Early in the French Revolution a mob attacked and began to destroy the sculpture on the north porch, but was stopped by a larger crowd of townspeople. The local Revolutionary Committee decided to destroy the cathedral via explosives and asked a local architect to find the best place to set the explosions. He saved the building by pointing out that the vast amount of rubble from the demolished building would so clog the streets it would take years to clear away. The cathedral, like Notre Dame de Paris and other major cathedrals, became the property of the French State and worship was halted until the time of Napoleon, but it was not further damaged.
In 1836, due to the negligence of workmen, a fire began which destroyed the lead-covered wooden roof and the two belfries, but the building structure and the stained glass were untouched. The old roof was replaced by a copper-covered roof on an iron frame. At the time, the framework over the crossing had the largest span of any iron-framed construction in Europe.World War II
The Second World War, in France, was a battle between the Allies and the Germans. In July 1944, the British and Canadians found themselves restrained just south of Caen. The Americans and their five divisions planned an alternative route to the Germans. While some Americans headed west and south, others found themselves in a sweep east of Caen that led them behind the frontline of the German forces. Hitler ordered the German Commissioner, Kluge, to head west to cut off the Americans. This ultimately led the Allies to Chartres in mid August 1944.
On August 16, 1944, the cathedral was saved from destruction thanks to the American colonel Welborn Barton Griffith Jr. (1901-1944), who questioned the order he was given to target the cathedral. The Americans believed that the steeples and towers were being used as an observation post for German artillery.
Griffith, accompanied by a volunteer soldier, instead decided to go and verify whether or not the Germans were using the cathedral. Griffith could see that the cathedral was empty, so he had the cathedral bells ring as a signal for the Americans not to shoot. Upon hearing the bells, the American command rescinded the order to fire. Colonel Griffith died in combat action that same day, in the town of Lèves, near Chartres. He was posthumously decorated with the Croix de Guerre avec Palme (War Cross 1939-1945), the Légion d'Honneur (Legion of Honour) and the Ordre National du Mérite (National Order of Merit) of the French government and the Distinguished Service Cross of the American government2009 restoration
In 2009, the Monuments Historiques division of the French Ministry of Culture began an $18.5-million program of works at the cathedral, cleaning the inside and outside, protecting the stained glass with a coating, and cleaning and painting the inside masonry creamy-white with trompe-l'œil marbling and gilded detailing, as it may have looked in the 13th century. This has been a subject of controversy (see below).Liturgy
The cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Chartres of the Diocese of Chartres. The diocese is part of the ecclesiastical province of Tours.
Every evening since the events of 11 September 2001, Vespers are sung by the Chemin Neuf Community.