The cathedral you see today dates principally from the 13th century, when it was rebuilt with the efforts and contributions of kings, princes, churchmen, and pilgrims from all over Europe. One of the world's greatest high Gothic cathedrals, it was the first to use flying buttresses to support the soaring dimensions within.
French sculpture in the 12th century broke into full bloom when the Royal Portal was added. A landmark in Romanesque art, the sculptured bodies is elongated, often stylized, in their long, flowing robes. But the faces are amazingly lifelike, occasionally winking or smiling. In the central tympanum, Christ is shown at the Second Coming, with his descent depicted on the right and his ascent on the left. Before entering, walk around to both the North Portal and the South Portal, each from the 13th century. They depict such biblical scenes as the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
Inside is a celebrated choir screen; work on it began in the 16th century and lasted until 1714. The niches, 40 in all, contain statues illustrating scenes from the life of the Madonna and Christ: everything from the Massacre of the Innocents to the Coronation of the Virgin.
The light from the stained glass covers an expanse of more than 2,500 sq. m. (9,000 sq. ft.), the glass is unlike anything else in the world. The stained glass, most of which dates from the 12th and 13th centuries, was spared in both world wars by painstakingly removing it piece by piece. It's difficult to single out one panel or window above the others, but an exceptional one is the 12th-century Vierge de la Belle Verrire (Our Lady of the Beautiful Window) on the south side. Of course, there are three fiery rose windows. The glass has gemlike richness, with the famous deep Chartres blue predominating. The oldest window is arguably the most beautiful: Notre-Dame de la Belle Verrire (Our Lady of the Lovely Window), in the south choir.
The nave, the widest in France, still contains its ancient floor labyrinth, which formed a mobile channel of contemplation for monks. The wooden Notre-Dame du Piller (Virgin of the Pillar), to the left of the choir, dates from the 14th century. The crypt was built over 2 centuries, beginning in the 9th. Enshrined within is Our Lady of the Crypt, a 1976 Madonna that replaced one destroyed during the Revolution.
Everywhere vivid color splashes on to the floor from the superb stained glass windows that glow like jewels. Dating from the early 13th century, the glass largely escaped harm during the religious wars of the 16th century; it is said to constitute one of the most complete collections of medieval stained glass in the world. Of the original 186 stained-glass windows, 152 have survived. A very notable window is the Blue Virgin Window (Notre Dame de la Belle Verrire), created in the early 1200s. (James, John, The Master Masons of Chartres)
The Royal Portal:
The west portal, known as the Royal Portal (Porte Royale), was carved in the 1140s. It has a revolutionary funnel shape that later became widspread. The sculptures and reliefs were modeled on those in the triple west portal at St. Denis, which were mostly destroyed at the Reformation.
Decorating the recesses of the Royal Portal are very tall, thin