The medieval Gothic cathedral was in many ways a civic building as well as a religious one. This particularly was the case with the famous cathedral Notre-Dame de Chartres (Our Lady of Chartres) in the town of the same name, 80km south-east of Paris, built in the 13th century. Chartres cathedral was planned not only as a place of worship, but also developed as the centre of the town's economy and way of life, as the place that housed the relic of the cloak of the Virgin Mary.
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The local citizens assisted the building of the cathedral by providing the labour, giving food to the workers and donating money to pay for its construction. The architecture of the cathedral dominated the town in the way that modern skyscrapers are the centre civic buildings today.
Many of the decorations in the cathedral such as the thousands of sculptures and beautiful stained glass windows were donated by guilds and tradespeople of the town. People visited Chartres for the fairs held on the feasts of the Virgin, a major place for trade. Townspeople also used the majestic cathedral and its grounds for business.
Medieval cathedrals such as Chartres show the strength and majesty of the Catholic church. The original Romanesque cathedral in Chartres that was built in the eleventh century burned down in a fire in 1134. The cathedral was then rebuilt in the gothic style, but then another fire destroyed all except the towers and the west front in 1194. (See Hallam & Everard 2001)
The new Gothic cathedral was regarded as one of the first examples of High Gothic architecture. There was a genuine desire, of course, to build places of worship and prayer and to build a cathedral as a way to pay homage to God. However, the catholic church also planned the cathedral as a place which would show ecclesiastical power to any who would see it.
"The buildings were for the glory of God, but they also expressed Episcopal prestige and affirmed the bishop's power in the face of his secular rivals." (Duby 1991: 4) Since there were often rivalries between the church and the state, a massive cathedral rising high above the town is one way of showing the strength of the church. In Capetian France (987-1328), royal officials often claimed that bishops and cardinals were getting away with some crimes because of what was known as 'benefit of clergy', immunity from prosecution in lay courts.