Below is a floor plan of Chartes, from Wikimedia Commons. I have added the text to the plan.There is a single aisle on each side of the nave and a double ambulatory aisle around the choir and apse.
The two photos above are of the nave, taken at the crossing looking west. Napoleon is reported to have said that no man could stand in the nave of Chartres Cathedral and deny there is a God. He probably tried. I found the experience almost overwhelming.
Above is a photo of the choir and apse from the crossing. The young man on the lower right gives
some perspective. There is a baroque altar piece visible, which apparently is quite common in these medieval churches. Below are the clerestory windows at the east end of the apse.
Above is the south rose window with its accompanying five lancet windows. This rose is dedicated to Christ who is shown in the center with his hand raised in benediction. These windows were made between 1225 and 1230. A closeup of the five lancet windows is shown below. The center lancet shows Mary carrying the infant Christ. The other four show the four Evangelists standing on four old testament prophets. Left to right--Luke on Jeremiah, Matthew on Isaiah, Mary and Christ, John on Ezekiel and Mark on Daniel.
Above is the end of the south aisle and the beginning of the ambulatory. Notice the striking difference in color. There is a big cleaning going on now; the lighter area has been cleaned. It is anticipated that the whole church will be cleaned by sometime in 2014.
This is the south ambulatory. I think you can see a little bit of one of the apsoidal chapels.
Chartres has the greatest medieval stained glass in the world. It depends on who's counting, but there are about 172 stained glass windows in Chartres, 152 of which date from the 12th or 13th century. And you see them in situ, where they were made to be seen.
The blue in the Chartres stained glass is magnificent, and has come to be known as "Chartres Blue." Many people believe that the process by which they made the blue was lost. We know that the blue is primarily due to cobalt, but we don't really know the process to duplicate the 13th century manufacture. What "recipes" exist are difficult for 21st century men to interpret and follow. Whether it was lost or not is really moot: for whatever reason little if any stained glass of Chartres Blue color was made after the 13th century. Another interesting tidbit : The stained glass at Chartres is about an inch thick.
Through all the wars since the 13th century Chartres has suffered very little damage. At the start of WWII, in 1939 all the stained glass was removed and stored somewhere in the French countryside. During the war, after D-Day at Normandy the Americans were driving towards Paris. The brass got the idea that the Germans were using the cathedral as an observation post and therefore it should be bombed. An American colonel, Col Welborn Barton Griffith, Jr. challenged the order. He took one man and went behind the German lines and proved that the Germans were not using the Cathedral. The order to bomb it was rescinded. On August 14, 1944 at Leves, near Chartres, Col. Griffith was killed.
The relic associated with Chartres is a piece of cloth that is thought to be the tunic that Mary wore when she gave birth to Christ. The Cathedral has had it in their possession since about 900; it was given to them by Charles the Bald. When the 1194 fire hit, two priests grabbed the tunic and went down into the crypt or treasury. When people were poking around in the rubble two or three days later, they found the priests and the tunic all safe and intact. The Blue Virgin window was also intact. This was clearly a miracle, so they rushed into the building of the new church, dedicated to Mary--Notre Dame de Chartres. Incidentally, in recent years the tunic has been tested and found to be from the first century, as is the weave.
A word on the photos. The day I was at Chartres it was cloudy with off and on light rain. I used a Sony a900, full frame DSLR. I took a tripod but had trouble with it trying to go vertical inside the cathedral. Operator error, I'm sure. Because of the sensor in that camera I was able to shoot some photos hand held at high ISO 2500-3200, which turned out okay. At least I was able to turn a disaster into acceptable.
I have wanted to visit Chartres for more years than I care to remember. I was not disappointed in any way. The last photo I will share with you is the north rose window, probably the one most "oohed and ahhed" over. This window was donated about 1235 by Blanch of Castile, grand daughter of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was queen of France by marriage and ruled France twice as Regent. The rose is dedicated to the Virgin. In the center Mary is holding the child Jesus. There are also the Fleur de Lis of France and the red and gold castles representing Castile. The Center lancet shows Mary's mother, St. Anne, holding Mary as an infant. The other four lancets show Old Testament figures triumphing over enemies. Enjoy!
By the way, if you're looking for a good read, try Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, by Amy ruth Kelly It's all about Eleanor of Aquitaine.