At the beginning of my stay in Chartres I did not think much of the cathedral. I found it to big, to overwhelming, filled with tourists instead of believers. I still think it’s true, but the cathedral is not to be blamed. Therefore today, as an old resident, when my visit to Chartres is drawing to an end, I herby solemnly swallow all my bitter comments.

The man who helped me understand the cathedral was Gilles Fresson. We spent almost two hours standing in front of the Portail Royale while he was unveiling to me the meaning of the symbolic gate, which makes up an Encyclopaedia of the Medieval Europe. The citizens of Chartres must have been extremely proud of the cathedral, if even the destructing and secularising force of the French Revolution left it almost untouched. Although it was transformed into the Temple of the Mind for a while, most of the sculptures were left undamaged and there was no dragging of dead bodies out of their crypts. It might have been partially caused by the fact that the respect for the mind was present in this city ever since in the Middle Ages the local scholars was successfully competing with the ones in Paris. They were even bold enough to invite the rabbis to join in the discussion about the Old Testament. I am reminded of the bloody times of the revolution passing by des Epars, which today is hosting a nice carrousel, but formerly was the place, where counterrevolutionaries lost their heads on a guillotine. Nonetheless, deep inside I believe that the beheading was committed more to comply with the overall spirit of the époque than to support the true beliefs of the people of Chartres. After all, over the centuries they got used to the cathedral, casting a shadow on the entire city, visible from its every corner, like the unfortunate Palace of Culture in Warsaw, it provides work places for the citizens; they love it and treat their city as if it was the centre of Europe.

However, apart form the spires soaring towards the sky, Chartres has also its dark places… I found them in the Hôtel Dieu hospital with great help from its amused administration staff. As I do not speak French, and the French usually do not speak modern Latin, that is English, I was given the tour by as many as five people. A member of the hospital’s technical staff took us along the dark, covered with dust corridors of the forgotten basement. Had Lars von Trier seen these interiors, he wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment about the set for his The Kingdom! The tour took so long that I couldn’t help but suspect that the basements of Hôtel Dieu hosts another Chartres built in case of emergency, with similarly narrow streets, a kitchen that is out od service and forgotten chapels that could replace the cathedral. When I showed the pictures from this expedition to my host Anne, she was very surprised that these marvels are hidden just a few blocks away, and yet no citizen of Chartres ever visits them. Not to mention Japanese tourists.