I can still remember the TV cart being rolled into my seventh grade classroom. It was the early ’90s when the rickety metal things bumped through middle school hallways everywhere, long before the days of touchscreens and streaming video. My European History class was studying cathedrals, and it was time for some animated characters to instruct us on the design of one of the greatest buildings ever constructed—Chartres Cathedral in France.
So nearly two decades later as we drove down the highway from Mont Saint-Michel toward Paris, there was no choice but to stop when the sign for Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres beckoned.
The two most impressive things about Chartres Cathedral are the impeccable shape that this 750-year-old building is in and—without a doubt—its stunning stained glass windows. One of the things the cartoon showed my classmates and I was how quickly the giant Gothic cathedral was constructed. A building of this size often took hundreds of years to build in other cities, but the majority of Chartres was built in only 26 years.
Compared to other cathedrals, very few significant changes have been made to the cathedral since it was consecrated in 1260, but upkeep efforts have been painstaking, which is why Chartres is still in such good shape centuries later.
The cathedral has 150 stained glass windows, including its famous Rose Window, that cover an astounding 2,500 square meters. The windows of the west facade date from the 12th century, with the remainder being added in the 13th century. The windows are such a treasure that the decision was made to remove the glass in 1939, just before France was invaded by the Nazis.
Luckily, Chartres was spared bombing during the war, and the glass was replaced and re-leaded after the conflict ended. Thanks to the preservation of the windows, the 12th century sculpture, and the building as a whole, Chartres Cathedral has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.