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The Gothic Cathedral. A stone Bible that must be read. Medieval theologians believed a church’s beauty would inspire parishioners to meditation and belief. The Cathedrals were called “Stone Bibles” The Annotated Mona Lisa. Quotes from Malcolm Miller, a Chartres Historian:.

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The Gothic Cathedral

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The Gothic Cathedral

A stone Bible that must be read.

  • Medieval theologians believed a church’s beauty would inspire parishioners to meditation and belief.

  • The Cathedrals were called “Stone Bibles”

  • The Annotated Mona Lisa

Quotes from Malcolm Miller, a Chartres Historian:

  • ''The cathedral is a remarkable library of human knowledge,'' he says.

  • ''In a world where few could read or write, the pictures in the glass and the statuary provided almost everything the medieval man or woman wanted to know about the world here and the life hereafter.'‘

  • “It was a medieval library or, in today's jargon, a teaching art form.”

(The Voices of Chartres )

  • Gothic cathedrals were highly decorated with statues on the outside and painting on the inside.

  • Cathedrals exteriors displayed carved Biblical tales.

  • The Annotated Mona Lisa



Giotto di Bondone Betrayal of Christ 200x185cm, Fresco. Arena Chapelabout 1302

West Façade of Cathedral of Reims, c 1230-1260 France

A Picture Bible

  • The Catholic Mass was spoken in Latin

  • The Bible was in Latin which they could not read.

  • The common people could not speak or read the Latin

  • People of the Middle Ages learned about their faith by reading the windows.

  • If you think of the Cathedrals like a book you will find they have all the components to make one…

The Spine

The flying buttresses and vaulted ceilings make up the spine of this book.

  • arch - the pointed arch is widely regarded as the main identifiable feature of Gothic architecture

  • boss - highly decorated carving found in ceilings, used to conceal the breaks in vault work.

  • buttress - a mass of stone built up to support a wall, also a flying buttress.

The Cover

You can judge this book by its cover.

  • jamb figures - located on either side of the main portal door; are the first carved figures a visitor meets on a visit to a Gothic cathedral. 

    • Traditionally they depict Old Testament prophets or martyred saints.

  • tympanum - a panel above a main portal, or doorway, usually heavily decorated.

Notre Dame, Chartres, France.


Name that “Saint”

  • The statues are allegorical which means you know which saint or biblical figure by their symbol.

    • St Peter holds the keys

    • St Thomas shows the finger he placed in Christ’s side.

    • Abraham holds his son Issac who he was willing to kill

    • St Denis holds his head because he was beheaded

  • The statues allowed parents to teach their children the stories



Exterior view, south transept, centre portal, west side, (left to right), Saint Matthew, Saint Thomas, Saint Philip, Saint Andrew, Saint

Pillar People

  • The Early Gothic sculptures of Chartres in the Western Façade stand like pillars

  • The Chartres figures of Old Testament Kings and Queens, wearing halos, are elongated to fit the narrow columns that house them.

  • Drapery lines are as thin and straight as their bodies, with few traces of naturalism.

  • The Annotated Mona Lisa

Right: Chartres Cathedral, west facade, jamb figures: ca. 1145-55

These Early Gothic Figures have halos linking them to Romanesque Art that was replaced by Gothic Art

  • In the 10 years it took to build Chartres Cathedral, there was an improvement in the quality of work done by the stone carvers

  • As one walks around the Cathedral the sculptures technically improve until they step out of the door jamb and interact with the visitors

  • Halos are gone and these biblical figures take on naturalism.

  • The Annotated Mona Lisa

Jambs statues from the left side of the central portal: (left to right)

Melchizedek, Abraham with Isaac, Moses, Samuel,and King David.

The dramatic Abraham, with head turned hearing God's message demonstrates the shift out of the pillarChartres Cathedral, Chatres France

Gothic Sculpture

  • Sculpture was used primarily to decorate the exterior of the cathedral other forms of art were inside the Cathedral.

  • Decoration focused on the west portal and usually this portal was decorated first.

  • “In consequence, the west portal at Chartres demonstrates Early Gothic sculpture while the north and south porches contain statues from the High Gothic period.”

Ancestror of Christ. Chartres, Royal Portal


The sculptures, the paintings, and the stain glass windows tell the bible stories to young and old

Stories in Glass

Like illuminated manuscripts stain glass windows tell the tale.

  • Rose window - a large, circular window with heavily foliated tracery branching out from a common center

  • oculus - a small circular or eye-shaped window.

    These windows told tales of miracles, exile and martyrdom.

Stain Glass Stories

  • The Chartres cathedrals stained glass windows are just as magnificent as the building itself.

  • The collection is the most intact in the world, measures 26,000 feet in total area.

  • The stained glass windows illustrated the Bible, the lives of the Saints, and even tradition crafts of France.

  • The windows are like gigantic glowing Illuminated Manuscripts

  • The Annotated Mona Lisa

Bottom section of The Good Samaritan window:Chartres cathedral

Nativity: Joseph's Dream

  • Thousands of pieces of glass, tinted with chemicals like cobalt and manganese, were bound together with strips of lead, which also outline component figures.

  • Many of the original windows, 42 actually, were donated by merchants of the city.

  • These particular windows contain over 100 scenes and depict the merchants' occupations as well as life in 13th century Chartres.

  • The Annotated Mona Lisa


Butchers selling a calf's head and carcass of a pig

Fabric Pages

  • Tapestries- woven wall hangings narrated bible stories and kept out the winter drafts along the Cathedral walls.

    Very few examples of gothic tapestries survived the wars and theft .

One of the Lady and the Unicorn series. Late 15th century

These Medieval mille fleur tapestries dealt with courtly or country life, mythology, allegory, heraldry and narrative themes.

Painted Pages

  • The painters of the Cathedrals painted on walls using the fresco technique or painted on wood using tempera paint and liquid gold

Giotto. Lamentation. c. 1306. fresco.

Late Gothic/Proto Renaissance. Scrovegni Chapel, Padua

Annunciation and Saints

Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi


Siena Cathedral, Italy

tempera and gold on wood

Hidden Storylines

  • Beyond the watchful eye of the priests and bishops one can find inventive sculptural detail such as gargoyles and even butterflies attacking men.

    • Gargoyle- fanciful water downspout

    • Grotesque- fanciful sculpture


Beyond the Book

The involvement of the community in rebuilding the Cathedral again and again was because the Pilgrims spent money in town.

The holy relic Chatres Cathedral holds is the tunic Mary wore at the Annunciation (when angel Gabriel come to tell Mary she would be the mother of Jesus). It was brought to Chartres in 876 by Charlemagne. It was acquired during the crusades.Thousands of pilgrims came to see it each year.

Therefore it was important to the economic and political well being of Chartres to preserve their Cathedral and its treasures

Above: The wine merchant Beside The drapery seller

The baker

  • Communal devotion to the buildings was so intense that all ranges of statues contributed to its construction.

  • Lords and Ladies, worked along side butchers and masons, dragging carts loaded with stone from quarries.

  • The Annotated Mona Lisa

  • Gothic Cathedrals were a symbol of Civic pride that an invaders worst insult was to pull down the tower of a conquered town’s cathedral.

  • The Annotated Mona Lisa

Gothic Cathedrals are a medieval art form

They hold many stories for the illiterate and non latin speakers in delicate pieces of glass, tapestry, frescoes and sculpture.

An engineering invention called the Flying buttress added to the vertical support for the roof of the Cathedral so these walls of glass could be created.

Gothic Cathedrals are a must read.

  • Next time you are traveling make sure you visit the Gothic Cathedral and read the walls and windows.

  • Walk around and examine the flying buttresses and jamb figures. See which biblical figures you can name.

  • Go Inside. Let your eyes adjust and look up.

  • Read the windows and let their beauty illuminate your soul.

  • Gothic Cathedrals are a library recording the history of the town, the church and the state in its art and architecture.


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05 Dec 2006 <>.

Google images search “Gothic Cathedral” “Chartres” “Rose window” “Flying Butresses” “Vault” “Gargoyle” “Grotesque”

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Tour of the Places of Liturgy 05 Dec 2006 <>.

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05 Dec 2006 <>.

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