As the pilgrims approached Chartres Cathedral, they would begin to see an experience the stories of the Bible as told through sculpture. There are some 10,000 carved statues within and without Chartres.
These statues, as one would expect, portrayed favorite characters from the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible and together their combined stories tell the history of the Messiah.
The people would also find the 12 signs of the zodiac which illustrated the different types of labor and the personifications of the 7 liberal arts.
It seems the designers of this great Cathedral wanted the people to find pieces of their lives among the stories of the Bible. There were many elements and clues and mysteries hidden within the stonework of this great pilgrimage destination.
In particular, let’s take a close up look at the tympanum of the middle entrance of the west portal created in 1145-1155 and portraying Christ seated on a throne surrounded by the 4 evangelist or the symbols for the 4 Gospel writers.
Seen through the lens of our time, one might think the overbearing presence of Jesus sitting on a throne over the entrance to the Cathedral is a bit intimidating…that the picture of Christ as the judge was emphasized to keep the poor fearful and oppressed. Certainly one can see this about this period in history…
What if we lay that a side for a moment? What if we try to really look and become open and curious?
Approaching this again, I noticed Christ the Judge and how he has rather cool eyes with lids that are half closed. This might be a representation of him as a leader who has confidence and strength.
With a little bit of study I discovered that the master builders were very much guided by a great reverence of numbers and used such Ratios of 10:1 square root of 2 which is a universally held symbol of perfection.
I also read in Rev 4:7-8 about the picture of the 4 beast surrounding the throne and that these symbols have been used to represent the Gospel writers since the 2nd century.
- Matthew is the angel, Incarnation
- Mark is the Lion, The Baptist crying in the wilderness
- Luke the Bull: Sacrifice
- John the eagle: Spiritual heights
As my eyes traveled down to the sculptures beneath the throne I noticed 14 figures instead of the expected 12 apostles. I was surprised to find the number 14. And I thought why 14? I uncovered that the designers, who were most assuredly men of the Church, would have universally understood the number 14 to mean deliverance.
The number 14 is used in the genealogies of Christ in Matthew. In fact you will notice that Matthew used the number 14, 3 times.
Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
14 = deliverance and 3 = resurrection, Matthew1:17
It is with new eyes I approach the Cathedral. I now can see and understand that the people of this time period would come to the Cathedral to find God and to transcend the struggles of this world. They would use their experiences there to remind and renew in themselves the teaches that through Christ the Christian pilgrim will find deliverance.