By altering citizens’ topological understanding of their city,70 such new paths fundamentally changed perspectives on, and perceptions of, the cathedral, reinforcing a formalist over a contextual understanding of the Gothic building that went on to dominate scholarship on Gothic architecture during most of the twentieth century. Like the new approach from the railway station, the development of art history as a discipline encouraged a focus on the west fagade. Driven by the search for origins, for the archetype that would be definitive, the lion’s share of early work on Chartres focused on this fagade.71 It, together with the west fagade of the abbey church of St-Denis, has been seen as marking a paradigm shift in medieval architecture and portal sculpture – the birth of Gothic style – and such moments of significant change typically draw more scrutiny than periods of continuity. Since the architecture of the High Gothic cathedral built behind this Early Gothic fagade shows some formal development from the nave to the choir (e. g. in the handling of the flying buttresses), it became standard to use the west fagade as a springboard to a stylistic discussion that moved through the building from west to east, repeating the medieval liturgical axis.72 While clarifying an overarching chrono­logical development, such an analysis based solely on form and structure developments – as if the building came about wholly as the result of an internal logic – had its price: it abstracted the cathedral from its original setting (as well as its modern one) and limited scholarly recovery of the multiple ways in which the building was perceived by a variety of users for whom it was not only a technological wonder.

This process of abstraction is particularly unfortunate since a good deal of the pleasure in thinking about medieval cathedrals and their decoration lies in knowing that one is investigating works of broad public address. Unlike both the exquisite luxury objects of the Middle Ages, produced for a small pool of elite private patrons, and much of today’s art with its increasingly desperate and shrill address to an ever-distracted audience, medieval cathedral decoration spoke confidently to all of society about the most pressing issues facing it: about salvation, about history, about nature, about truth. But it did not speak to everyone in the same way, nor was it necessarily understood to say the same things, for in such a stratified society the circum­stances of different viewers and the competencies they brought to their viewing varied widely.

An acknowledgement of those varied circumstances permits us to dismantle one of the more insidious implications of the nineteenth-century concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk as it has been applied to the medieval cathedral. While giving a firm critical contour to the functional and aesthetic marriage of the arts which was the Gothic cathedral – which would later inspire Walter Gropius at the inception of the Bauhaus73 – the notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk implies that we can similarly delineate a unitary meaning for such a work.74 This is both a cognitive and an historiographical illusion, however. In the fractious reality of their fallen world, medieval cathedrals did not serve one universal public – neither ecclesiastically nor democratically conceived – but rather several publics. The ‘whole’ of the medieval cathedral as Gesamtkunstwerk lies not in the edifice alone, therefore, but in the variety of its users.


1 A. Chedeville, Chartres et ses campagnes (Xie-XIIIe s.), Paris: Klincksieck, 1973 (repr., Chartres: Garnier, 1991), pp. 416, 419, 505, 519-20, 524, 528-29.

2 M. Jusselin, ‘Dernieres recherches sur les traditions de l’eglise de Chartres’, Memoires de la Societe archeologique d’Eure-et-Loir (hereafter SAEL-M) 15, 1915-22, 100-16, esp. 104-8, 110-13.

3 P. Kurmann and B. Kurmann-Schwarz, ‘Chartres Cathedral as a work of artistic integration: methodological reflections’, in Artistic Integration in Gothic Buildings, Buildings, ed. Virginia Chieffo Raguin et al., Toronto, Buffalo, and London: University of Toronto, 1995, p. 142. Alain Erlande-Brandenburg remarks that the pilgrimages to Chartres on the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin (15 August) and the Nativity of the Virgin (8 September) were the most important in northern Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, perhaps implying an international audience; The Cathedral: The Social and Architectural Dynamics of Construction, trans. M. Thom, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 120. While not implausible, this comment is not supported by reference to any contemporary evidence save a stereotypical reference by Pope Alexander IV in 1260 to ‘innumerable multitudes of the faithful’. Those who did come from further away to venerate the Virgin of Chartres typically belonged to the upper classes; Chedeville, op. cit., pp. 509-10.

4 D. Kimpel and R. Suckale, L’architecture gothique en France, 1130-1270, trans. F. Neu, Paris: Flammarion, 1990, p. 11, and B. Abou-el-Haj, ‘The urban setting for late medieval church building: Reims and its cathedral between 1210 and 1240’, Art History 11/1, 1988, 17-41.

5 Y Delaporte (ed.), L’ordinaire chartrain du XIIIe siecle, SAEL-M 19, 1952-53, and Margot Fassler in ‘Liturgy and sacred history in the twelfth-century tympana at Chartres’, Art Bulletin 75/3, 1993, 499-520.

6 Delaporte (ed.), op. cit., 22, and L. Amiet, Essai sur l’organisation du chapitre cathedrale de Chartres (du Xle au XVIIIe siecle), Chartres: Felix Laine, 1922, p. 73.

7 The phrase ‘main entrance’, unqualified, was used of the Royal Portal as recently as 1993 by Margot Fassler, op. cit., 500. Fassler concedes in a footnote (p. 500, n. 12), however, that neither the twelfth- nor the thirteenth-century ordinal emphasizes entrances and exits through the Royal Portal.

8 See J. van der Meulen and J. Hohmeyer, Chartres: Biographie der Kathedrale, Cologne: DuMont, 1984, p. 225; R. Hoyer’s review of their book in SAEL-M 11, 1987, 35-42; and L. Spitzer, ‘The cult of the Virgin and Gothic sculpture: evaluating opposition in the Chartres west fagade capital frieze’, Gesta 33/2, 1994, 140, 145-46.

9 Cartulaire de Notre-Dame de Chartres (hereafter CND), ed. E. de Lepinois and L. Merlet,

three vols, Chartres: Garnier, 1862-65, vol. 2/1, p. 103.

10 L. Merlet, ‘Boutiques au cloTtre Notre-Dame’, SAEL-M 1, 1858, 80. Also A. Lecocq, Recherches sur les enseignes de pelerinages et les chemisettes de Notre-Dame-de – Chartres, Chartres: Garnier, 1874, p. 18, and E. de Lepinois, Histoire de Chartres, two vols,

Chartres: Garnier, 1854, 1858, vol. 1, p. 508.

11 Roger Joly, Histoire de Chartres, Roanne/Le Coteau: Horvath, 1982, p. 225.

12 Ibid., p. 226, and A. Lecocq, Esquisse historique du cloftre Notre-Dame de Chartres, Chartres: Garnier, 1858, p. 25.

13 Ibid., p. 29.

14 Delaporte (ed.), op. cit., p. 29 and the map at the back.

15 Chedeville divides the town into three distinct quarters: the clerical quarter to the north around the cathedral, the mercantile and artisanal quarter to the south but still on the plateau, and the industrial quarter of the lower town to the east along the River Eure; op. cit., p. 422. Concomitant with urban growth in general in the twelfth century was a frequent displace­ment of the ‘holy town’ away from the centre of the city; see Erlande-Brandenburg, op. cit., p. 158.

16 Erlande-Brandenburg, op. cit., chap. 1.

17 Chedeville, op. cit., p. 426 notes that the last count to reside frequently in the castle at Chartres was Thibaud V (t 1191); this makes the castle all the more interesting as an urban, architectural symbol of the count’s authority in the absence of his person.

18 CND, vol. 1/2, p. 49.

19 At Amiens, the south transept portal served as entrance for the public, as well as for the chapter; Kimpel and Suckale, op. cit., pp. 11, 14.

20 Portraict ou plan de la ville de Chartres, in Frangois de Belle-forest, La cosmographie universelle de tout le monde, two vols, Paris: Michel Sonnius, 1575, vol. 1: plate tipped in between pp. 301 and 302, and La ville de Chartres, drawn and engraved by N. de Larmessin at the bottom of a 1697 image entitled Le Triomphe de la Sainte Vierge dans l’Eglise de Chartres which is preserved in the Cabinet des Estampes at the Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris.

21 A. Lecocq, ‘La Porte Guillaume et ses abords’, in Causeries et recherches beauceronnes recueillies etpubliees, Chartres: Garnier, 1882, p. 45. On the road from Paris, see Chedeville, op. cit., p. 443.

22 This is, in fact, more accurately represented in another very early view of Chartres, that published as pl. 8 in G. Braun and F. Hogenberg, Urbium pr&cipuarum totius mundi, vol. 3, Cologne, 1581. Among all the many early prints I consulted, this is the only one which presents the city from the west.

23 This occurs in a seventeenth-century print entitled Chartres, also at the Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris.

24 Y Delaporte, ‘Les anciens fonts baptismaux de la crypte de Notre-Dame de Chartres’, La voix de Notre-Dame de Chartres, 1932, 134-35. Also idem, L’ordinaire chartrain du Xllle siecle, 25.

25 Jan van der Meulen has proposed to the contrary that the sculpture of the Last Judgement portal was begun as a replacement for the Majestas Domini occupying the central aperture

of the west fagade, an argument based on discrepancies in measurements which seem to disassociate parts of the cathedral now contiguous and instead connect them to other parts. For an extended discussion of these issues, see my dissertation, Laura Holden Hollengreen, ‘Living Testimony: Exemplary Old Testament Narratives on the North Transept Facade of Chartres Cathedral’, PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1998, pp. 36-44, 284-86. Also Jan van der Meulen, ‘Sculpture and its architectural context at Chartres around 1200’, in The Year 1200: A Symposium (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975), pp. 515, 518-20 (but cf. p. 536, n. 74).

26 M. Camille, Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art, Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1992, p. 9.

27 R. I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950-1250, Oxford: Blackwell, 1987.

28 J.-F. Reynaud and C. Sapin, ‘La place du quartier canonial dans la ville’, in Les chanoines dans la ville. Recherches sur la topographie des quartiers canoniaux en France. De l’Archeologie a l’Histoire, ed. J.-C. Picard (Paris: De Boccard, 1994), p. 28. Two important exceptions were the canonial quarters at Autun and Laon.

29 Lecocq, op. cit. (as in n. 12), p. 6.

30 M. Jusselin, ‘La Chapelle Saint-Serge-et-Saint-Bacche ou Saint-Nicolas-du-CloTtre a Chartres’, Bulletin monumental 99, 1940, 135; CND, vol. 1/2, pp. 223-24. The church was razed in 1703-04 in order to provide space for enlargement of the bishop’s gardens.

31 It has been argued that this building was the parish church serving inhabitants of the cloister until the mid-twelfth century, rather than the cathedral which is often mistakenly thought to have functioned as their parish church but did not do so until the early nineteenth century. From 1150 on, however, the former was purely canonial since parish functions were trans­ferred elsewhere. See Jusselin, op. cit. (as in n. 30), 147-48, and Joly, op. cit., p. 163.

32 Lecocq, op. cit. (as in n. 12), p. 21, and Delaporte (ed.), op. cit., 28.

33 Joly, op. cit., pp. 177-79. A chapter cellar is first mentioned in 1106, a century before construction of the present building but in approximately the same location; J. W. Williams, Bread, Wine, and Money: The Windows of the Trades at Chartres Cathedral, Chicago and London: University of Chicago, 1993, p. 173, n. 17 and p. 175, n. 45.

34 Ibid., pp. 40, 42, and 175, n. 33; also Amiet, op. cit., pp. 219-21. As of 1344, the Loens, as the granary was called, served as the seat of the chapter’s temporal justice, administered by the Maire de Loёn and issued in weekly Tuesday sittings; it also housed the chapter prison. J.-B. Souchet, Histoire du diocese et de la ville de Chartres, four vols, repr., Chartres: Garnier, 1976, vol. 1, p. 25; Guy Nicot, ‘Le cloTtre Notre-Dame de Chartres’, Notre-Dame de Chartres 7/27, 1976, 9.

35 L. Merlet, Inventaire sommaire des archives hospitalieres anterieures a 1790, Chartres: Durand, 1890, pp. v, xii. Until the eighteenth century it preserved a Gothic gabled fagade which fronted onto the south cloister; Lecocq, op. cit., p. 22.

36 Clerical possessions were not confined within the northern limit of the cloister but included virtually all of the small urban area beyond; Lepinois, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 188. Chedeville, op. cit., p. 423, suggests that ‘A un moment [by the end of the thirteenth century] ou la noblesse a deserte la ville pour vivre a la campagne, cette zone calm, aeree et bien batie, apparaTt comme le quartier aristocratique’.

37 One study that discusses both functions is P. C. Claussen, Chartres-Studien. Zu Vor – geschichte, Funktion und Skulptur der Vorhallen, Forschungen zur Kunstgeschichte und christlichen Archaologie 9, ed. R. Hamann-MacLean, Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1975.

38 R. J. Adams, The Eastern Portal of the North Transept at Chartres: Christocentric Rather Than Mariological, Frankfurt and Bern: Peter D. Lang, 1982, p. 75.

39 CND, vol. 2/1, p. 196 (dated 1274). The stone served as a kind of monitory guard posted at the single gate into the grounds of the episcopal palace. See Jusselin, op cit., 150, and Lecocq, op. cit., p. 24.

40 Hollengreen, ‘Living Testimony’, pp. 334-39.

41 In ‘La cathedrale de Chartres et ses maTtres-de-l’reuvre’, SAEL-M 6, 1876, 461, A. Lecocq cites a manuscript transcription of a document from 1271 referring to a sentence rendered at the door of the cathedral before the stone figure representing Mary Magdalene. Another document, dating to 1299 and also cited by Lecocq, stipulates a rent to be paid annually on the feast day of St Remi (1 October), in front of the image of the Magdalene. M. Jusselin, ‘La maTtrise de l’reuvre a Notre-Dame de Chartres. La fabrique, les ouvriers et les travaux du XIVe siecle’, SAEL-M 15, 1921, 279, quotes yet a third document from 1305 ordering a royal sergeant to pay an amend for having arrested a man in the cloister; it is to be paid on the steps of the cathedral, near or next to the image of the Magdalene.

42 Kimpel and Suckale, op. cit., p. 14, note that at cathedrals dedicated to the Virgin the portal used by the chapter was often decorated with a Marian programme, whether that portal faced north as at Paris or south as at Amiens.

43 D. Harvey, ‘Social Processes and Spatial Form: The Conceptual Problems of Urban Planning’, in Social Justice and the City, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins, 1973, pp. 22-36, 44-49.

44 Van der Meulen, op. cit. (as in n. 24), p. 515.

45 J. Villette, ‘Precisions nouvelles sur le jube de la cathedrale de Chartres’, SAEL-M 23, 1964-68, 131.

46 E. Fernie, ‘La fonction liturgique des piliers cantonnes dans la nef de la cathedrale de Laon’, Bulletin monumental 145/3, 1987, pp. 257, 260, 265.

47 M.-J. Bulteau, Monographie de la cathedrale de Chartres, 2nd edn, three vols, Chartres: Selleret, 1887, 1888, and 1892, vol. 1, pp. 224, 229, and 237.

48 L. Merlet, Catalogue des reliques et joyaux de Notre-Dame de Chartres, Chartres: Garnier, 1885, p. 145, n. 2 and p. 153, n. 1.

49 P. Geary, Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages, Ithaca and London: Cornell, 1994, pp. 95-115.

50 Merlet, op. cit. (as in n. 48), p. 149, n. 1.

51 CND, vol. 2/2, pp. 280-83; also Souchet, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 384-85; Amiet, op. cit., pp. 25,

34-35; and Williams, op. cit., p. 21.

52 Merlet, op. cit., p. 120. Cf. CND, vol. 3/1, p. 89, the obit for Louis.

53 Y. Delaporte, ‘Une fondation du roi Charles V: Notes sur le culte de sainte Anne et des Trois-

Maries’, La voix de Notre-Dame de Chartres 58/6, 1914, 125-26, and idem (ed.), L’ordinaire chartrain du Xllle siecle, 55, n. 3.

54 Bulteau, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 237.

55 Lepinois, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 512; Bulteau, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 238, 243.

56 Ibid., vol. 2, p. 167.

57 Y. Delaporte, ‘Remarques sur la chronologie de la cathedrale de Chartres’, SAEL-M 21, 1959, p. 312.

58 Lepinois, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 512.

59 Joly, op. cit., p. 145.

60 Lepinois, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 512.

61 Ibid., and Bulteau, op. cit., vol. 3, p. 330.

62 J.-B. Thiers, Dissertation sur les porches des eglises, dans laquelle on fait voir les divers usages ausquels ils sont destinez. .., Orleans: Frangois Hotot, 1679, pp. 132-33.

63 Lepinois, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 181.

64 C. Rowe and F. Koetter, ‘Crisis of the Object: Predicament of Texture’, in Collage City,

Cambridge, MA and London: MIT, 1978, pp. 50-85, esp. pp. 68-69.

65 Ibid., p. 83.

66 Bulteau, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 229.

67 Jan van der Meulen, ‘Angrenzende Bauwerke der Kathedrale von Chartres’, Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen 16, 1974, 7, n. 3. A large part of the Hotel-Dieu to the southwest of the cathedral was torn down; on this and the widening of certain streets, see Jean Laurent, ‘Chartres: Le cloTtre Notre-Dame. Observations archeologiques’, Bulletin de la Societe archeologique d’Eure-et-Loir, supplement, 14/4, 1987, 6.

68 K. Lynch, ‘City Form’, in The Image of the City, Cambridge, MA and London: MIT, 1960, pp. 91-117.

69 The first railway line in France began operation in 1828 and the railway system was greatly expanded from the 1850s on.

70 Cf. M. de Certeau, ‘Walking in the City’, in The Certeau Reader, ed. Graham Ward, Oxford: Blackwell, 2000, pp. 101-18.

71 Such works range from W. Voge, Die Anfange des monumentalen Stiles im Mittelalter. Eine Untersuchung uber die erste BlUtezeit franzosischer Plastik, Strasbourg: Heitz und Mundel, 1894, to H. Kunze, Das Fassadenproblem der franzosischen FrUh – und Hochgotik, Leipzig: Oscar Brandstetter, 1912, esp. pp. 27-44, to W. S. Stoddard, Sculptors of the West Portals of Chartres Cathedral: Their Origins in Romanesque and Their Role in Chartrain Sculpture, New York and London: Norton, 1987 – a revision of his earlier The West Portals of Saint-Denis and Chartres: Sculpture in the Ile-de-France from 1140 to 1190, Theory of Origins, Cambridge: Harvard, 1952 – to, more recently, C. E. Armi, The ‘Headmaster’ of Chartres and the Origins of ‘Gothic’ Sculpture, University Park: Pennsylvania State, 1994.

72 John James was the first to challenge this description of the cathedral’s chronology of construction, based on an exacting study of the lithic evidence. See his earliest and most complete publication on the issue: Chartres, les constructeurs, two vols, Chartres: Societe archeologique d’Eure-et-Loir, 1977; trans. The Contractors of Chartres, two vols, Dooralong, New South Wales: Mandorla, 1979.

73 See excerpts from Gropius’ first Bauhaus manifesto and the Lyonel Feininger woodcut of a cathedral which served as its frontispiece in U. Conrads (ed.), Programs and Manifestoes on 20th-Century Architecture, Cambridge: MIT, 1975, p. 397.

74 See, for instance, E. Male, The Gothic Image: Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century, trans. D. Nussey, New York: Harper and Row, 1972 (first published in French in 1898), p. 397:

To [the men of the Middle Ages] the cathedral was the sum of revelation. In it all the arts combined, speech, music, the living drama of the Mysteries and the mute drama of sculpture. But it was something more than art, it was the white light before its division by the prism into multiple rays. Man, cramped by his social class or his trade, his nature disintegrated by his daily work and life, there renewed the sense of the unity of his being and regained equilibrium and harmony. The crowd assembled for the great festivals felt itself to be a living whole, and became the mystical body of Christ, its soul passing into His soul. The faithful were humanity, the cathedral was the world, and the spirit of God filled both man and all creation.

Updated: 3rd October 2014 — 1:37 pm