Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Shrines of Our Lady

Notre Dame sous Terre

Chartres Cathedral has three main shrines to the Blessed Virgin. The oldest is Notre-Dame-de-sous-Terre, a statue from the eleventh century which marked the place of the druidical sect who worshipped the Virgin who was to give birth. This statue was destroyed by the French Revolutionaries in 1793. The present statue is a copy.

The second is the shrine which led medieval pilgrims to Chartres. This is the Veil of Our Lady. This relic was given to the Cathedral in 876AD by Charles the Bald, the Holy Roman Emperor. In part this was given to the Cathedral because it the Cathedral had been previously destroyed by the Vikings. The gift of the relic focussed minds and gift for the building of the new Church. The Veil had been given by the Empress Irene to Charlemagne. Scientific studies have shown that it is of Syrian design, of fine quality and can be traced to the first century. By the 12th century, Chartres was one of the most important Pilgrimage sites of Europe.

It had often been depicted as a tunic but when this was unwound it was found to be a Veil, or a long piece of cloth rather than a Chemise or undershirt. It is ironic really. The Veil was not destroyed by the French Revolutionaries to show how superstitious and nonsense our faith is. Yet the Revolution has come and gone, while the Veil remains.

The last shrine is Our Lady of the Pillar, a 14th century statue. This is venerated and honoured by all who come to the Cathedral, somewhat eclipsing the Veil of the Virgin, which is a pity. But the prayers of the faithful to the honour of Our Lady are truly gracious where ever they are.

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