Comparison of the Chartres towers

Comparison of the Chartres towers

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Comparison of the Chartres towers

The cathedral of Notre-Dame at Chartres must be one of the most beautiful and famous architectural specimens in the world today. The cathedral owns an exquisite silhouette against the sky of La Beauce. Two towers rise uncontested, to take watch over miles and miles of French countryside. Up close, the two towers, along with their spires, seem mismatched or unrelated. Yet, the two together provide for one of the most interesting juxtapositions in architecture. €Chartres cathedral has had a tumultuous history with both tragedies and triumphs. Charpentier notes that the site of the cathedral has also served various other purposes. The Romans had used the higher ground for a military camp, part of which still exists on the eastern side of the cathedral by the transition of apse to choir. In addition to the camp site, there was also the existance of a Gallo-Roman temple on the same site as Chartres cathedral. This temple is believed to have the same orientation as the cathedral and the cathedral's round apse uses the foundation of a Gallo-Roman defensive tower. This use of the Gallo-Roman defensive tower is also present at Bourges cathedral. The lower parts of the defensive tower formed a crypt which was incorporated into the ninth century Church of Gislebert, also known as Saint Lubin's chapel. On the night of September seventh 1020, the Church was completely razed by fire. €After the destruction of the church in Chartres, the bishop of Chartres, Saint Fulbert, spearheaded the campaign to build a church in Chartres. Only the crypt remained from the earlier Caroligian church and Fulbert built his Romanesque church around the enduring crypt. Fulbert's church lasted 200 years, but in 1134 the front faœade was damaged by another fire. It was at this time that a effort to update and restore the church was put into motion. The religious powers, along with the Crusaders longed for a greater monument. Thus, Chartres decided to begin a separate tower.€This adding on to Romanesque churches was not unusual for the day. The abbey-church at Cluny, outside Italy, was given a new magnificent five-bay narthex and two bell-towers. A similar renovation was attempted at La CharitŒ, but funds ran short and the upgrades could not be completed. €Hence, in 1134 the tower forming the north-west corner of the present-day cathedral, (the left tower of the west faœade elevation), underwent construction.

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Shortly thereafter, however, the desire for symmetry was recognized in the beginings of a second tower to the south. The northern tower was left unfinished and full attention went into the construction of the southern tower. The southern tower was completed, spire and all, in 1170. After the realization of the two towers, they oddly determined the fate of Chartres cathedral. €Due to foundation problems, the west faœade of Bishop Fulbert's church was brought west, stone by stone, to be inserted in between the two towers. The three portaled porch of the Fulbert church with respective panes of stained glass above each portal did not fit perfectly, however. Some forcing was neccesary and is evident in the slight trimming of the flanking portals. This movement of the faœade proved to be a blessing in disguise. In 1194, the church of Bishop Fulbert was nearly destroyed in a menacing fire. The timber roof and nave were lost, yet the newly rebuilt faœade and the two towers remained intact. Huge efforts were made by all classes of French society and in 1220 the cathedral was finished. €Nearly the next 300 years in the history of the cathedral were without any major damage. In 1506, however, lightning caused a fire on the lead-covered wooden spire of the north tower. A new spire was finished by the the architect Jean de Beauce in seven years. €The southern tower and spire of Chartres cathedral is known as the "old" tower, but, in fact, is the younger of the two. The steeple was built during the Romanesque period and remained unmatched in simplicity and beauty. The master mason of Chartres drew upon the precedents set forth with the steeples of Saint-Germain d' Auxerre and the TrinitŒ de Vend“me. The latter spires are similar but do not exhibit the same perfection as that of Chartres. The lines of the three spires are the same: a quadralateral tower demonstrating three sections above which a fourth section becomes octagonal. The spire then rises from the octagon. Apices rise from the four remaining corners left from the transition from square to octagon. Tall dormer windows are contained within each of the pinnacles. At Chartres, gables are used to hide sections of transition and surround the base of the spire. The gables and dormer windows allow for a flawless move from square to octagon. The continuity and spirit are not as present in the two earlier spires. The steeple is 60 meters high then a 105 meter tall spire tops the steeple. The spire is void of any ornamentaion except the functional ribs and roofing tiles that also emphasize movement towards the heavens.
€Although the spire is only 80 centimeters at its base and 30 at its peak, the spire has endured countless storms, high winds, and lightning bolts. This is just another testimony to flawless design and construction of the steeple and spire.
€The northern steeple and spire are known as the "new" steeple. This is due to the fact that Jean Texier, known as Jean de Beauce, completed the new steeple and spire after the older spire had burned down. The northern spire is the tallest in France at 377 feet. Jean de Beauce constructed the spire and steeple in the early sixtenth century in the flamboyant style. The steeple is built on top of the twelfth century tower. Directly above the tower is a square storey containing an enormous window.
Above this square storey are two octagonal plinths that serve as the base of the spire.
The octagons are covered with statues of the Apostles, then supported with miniature flying buttresses. The steeple is covered with pinnacles, mullions and trefoils. The steeple seems to be made of stone lace. €When one takes the steeples and their respective spires separately, the towers are certainly different. I find the simplicity of the southern steeple and spire much more appealing than that of the over-adorned lacey stone work of the northern. Complete appreciation of the towers only comes from the consideration of the steeples and spires as one element, not two. One represents the beginings of the Gothic style, while the other represents the end. The two unequal towers seem to frame the faœade of Chartres cathedral. "Gothic art, whose death was imminent, culminated triumphantly at Chartres," (Mƒle 180).
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