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Chartres, the Belle-Verrière Window
The Belle Verrière Window of the Cathedral of Chartres
– Father Johann Roten, S.M.
This window is located on the south side of the Cathedral, at the entrance to the choir, in bay 14. It consists of twenty-four segments: The three at the bottom of the window depict the three temptations of Christ as recorded by Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. The next six panels tell the story of Christ’s first miracle at Cana as recorded in John 2:1-11. The next four central panels show four angels upholding a throne and the Virgin Mary and her Son, Jesus. Ten narrow side panels depict angels doing homage to Mary and Jesus. The central panel above May’s head shows the Holy Spirit as a dove.
1. A devil tempts Christ, showing him a stone.
2. Christ stands on the pinnacle of the Temple.
3. Christ, on a mountain, sends the devil away.
4. Followed by his disciples, Christ goes to Cana.
5. The Wedding banquet at Cana.
6. Mary speaks to Christ.
7. Mary speaks to the waiters.
8. Christ changes the water into wine.
9. One of the waiters brings some wine to the
steward of the feast.
10.-11.-12. Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere
(Our Lady of the Beautiful Window).
13. The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, sends
forth three rays of light upon the halo around
14. Four angels uphold the throne on which
Mary is seated.
15.-16.-17.-18. Angels with censers
19.-20. Angeles bearing candles.
21.-22. Angels with censers, whose large bowls
fill up the empty spaces around Mary’s head.
23.-24. Angels with hands joined emerge from
In 1194 a fire destroyed Chartres’ earlier Cathedral. Of the twelfth-century windows that survived, only this figure of Mary and the large windows at the west end were the only ones deemed worth reusing by the thirteenth century master. This image of Mary has for centuries been an object of special veneration and since the fifteenth century has been known as Our Lady of the Beautiful Window. In 1906, the glazier Gaudin restored Mary’s head. While before Mary’s gaze was fixed straight ahead, her head is now inclined very slightly towards the viewer’s left.
Mary is seated on a throne, her feet resting on a footstool, covered with a rug. She is dressed in a garment of a bright, luminous blue. Her head, surrounded by a blue nimbus bordered with pearls, is surmounted by a rich crown. A white veil falls in folds on either side of her head. Her hands rest on the shoulders of her Son, who is seated on her knees. A cruciform nimbus is around his head. His right hand is raised in blessing. In his left hand he holds an open book where we read the words:
Omnis vallis implebitur (“Every valley shall be filled.”) It is a prophecy of the Incarnation found in Isaiah’s 40:4 and recalled by John the Baptist in Luke 3:5.
The figures of Mary and Jesus emerge against a background of magnificent red. The images are drawn with the greatest care. The garments with their symmetrical folds, the ornaments along their borders, the architecture of the throne, all is treated with the minute attention to detail, without detracting from the composition of the whole.
It is difficult to find a theme that unifies the entire window. The Temptation of Christ in the wilderness and the Miracle at Cana are two of the earliest incidents in the public life of Christ. There is no agreement among scholars why the glazier decided to include them here.
Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière -The upper portion of the window (12 C and 13 C) in the south aisle of the choir.
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