I’m going a bit out of order now and skipping (1) Day 3 of London, (2) Regensburg, (3) Dachau the town, (4) Bad Tolz, and, as always, a few local churches, in order to show you the pilgrimage I went on three (!) weeks ago. Time goes fast. And last week I also went to Augsburg, so I’ve got that in the chute as well.
Also news: I finally ran out of my 3 gigs of upload space, so I spent $20 on a 10 gig expansion. Apparently it has to be renewed every year, so I don’t know how long the FULL version of my blog will exist on these eternal internets.
BUT! Chartres Cathedral!
I went there! How? And why?? This you shall learn.
So, here I am leaving Bavaria to catch the bus to France. Look how fresh and happy I am! Look at me breezily wearing two backpacks! Look at my clean hair! I did not look like this for long.
Because it seems sort of out of the blue, let me explain how I ended up going on this pilgrimage. We have to add a little back story:
In the Catholic Church there is a rather small subculture devoted to the traditional Latin Mass — there was a sort of big thing in the 60s you may or may not know about whereby the Mass was simplified in its structure and was said in the vernacular instead of in Latin. It’s called the “Novus Ordo” Mass, or also the Ordinary Form. For a while the Latin Mass — while it was still taught and celebrated by a very, very small group of people — seemed like it would be eclipsed. There was also simultaneously a revolution in church design and liturgical dress and “trappings,” which I mourn much more than the changes in the liturgy itself (because I actually love Mass in the vernacular, and for the most part I like the structure and style of the Ordinary Form). But in recent decades, the traditional Latin Mass has gained (or regained) a following, and there are a number of organizations that sort of spearhead this subculture. One of them puts on a pilgrimage every year that walks from Paris to Chartres on the Feast of Pentecost.
This is getting boring. Basically, I follow a couple blogs that are in the general milieu of this traditional-liturgy type movement, chiefly New Liturgical Movement, and for a couple of years I’ve seen them posting about this big event that happens in France every year at Pentecost: the pilgrimage to Chartres. So since I was actually in Europe this year, and I wanted to go to France in a cheapish way, and I love liturgical pomp and circumstance, and the pilgrimage to Chartres has a very long historical pedigree, I decided this would be an awesome thing for me to do.
It was awesome. It was also exhausting and difficult in ways I didn’t foresee.
So I did lots of emailing and even phone-calling (I can call up a stranger in German and have a conversation with them in German!) and got run around to a few different people before I could get signed up, and then the plan was for me to get on a bus from the Austrian group that would be coming by Munich on its way to Paris. There was also a German group from southern Bavaria (and I was officially signed up to march with this Bavarian group), a group from Stuttgart, and one from Köln — all on different buses. So there were four German-speaking groups of 40-60ish people each, along with the German-speaking Swiss group, who don’t speak German anyway.
I had to go way out to a highway rest stop on the edge of Munich to meet this bus. Which meant I first had to ride some 45 minutes on the S-Bahn, then ten minutes on a city bus, and then walk 2 kilometers through farmfields — carrying my hiking backpack, my daypack, and my sleeping bag and pad and stuff.
This was fine, because remember how fresh and excited I was. Carrying stuff, I can walk 2k in exactly 25 minutes.
I got there, I got loaded onto the bus… and then it really hit me: Oh yeah, I don’t know anyone here. I had thought of course about how they would all be speaking German, and about the extent of my conversational abilities in German, but while I knew I could survive without getting lost or dying, I hadn’t really thought about how it would feel to spend all these days with strangers, many of whom were already friends, and trying to get to know some of them with all the hang-ups involved in not speaking fluent German.
I don’t know, I guess I did okay. I initiated conversations at a rate that I never do in the US, but it sucks to do that because sometimes I am lucky enough that I can understand the first two or three minutes of the conversation, and sometimes I suddenly can’t understand the first thing they say, and then I’m stuck there like a dumb person having to tell them that actually my German stinks. And they are usually very nice about it, but also sort of confused about why I started talking to them in the first place. And Germans — you may have heard — are not Americans. They find it polite to mostly ignore strangers, not smile giddily at everyone who passes by. (I love American friendliness!) Of course, there are all different personalities, and not everybody came with a group of friends, so I met a few people who were very nice to me, and I was happy with my ability to talk with them. But I didn’t really feel like I could really continuously hang out with any of them, because it seemed clingy. So the pilgrimage was often lonely for me, and I came away with more of a sense of being out of place than a sense of continent-spanning Catholic unity.
That’s the downside. The upside was that I did make some nice acquaintances over my five days, and I got to see France and etc etc. The spiritual aspect is another thing, which I’ll go into more once I start posting pictures…
OH AND THE PHYSICAL PART. Yeah. I’ll talk about that, too.
Here is my first blurred glimpse of Notre Dame de Paris!
Here we are getting off the bus, busting out the Austrian flag. The bus left Munich at about 5pm, and arrived in Paris at around 5am. We also stopped in Augsburg and Ulm to pick people up, and stopped for an hour at some rest stop to eat dinner. Then we slept on the bus, which was not completely restful. I got probably four hours of actual sleep, plus a few more dozing hours.
Notre Dame. Built from roughly 1163-1240. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to explore and photograph the exterior. The interior is pretty underwhelming, thanks, French Revolution (and Huguenot iconoclasm).
During the French Revolution, the church was desecrated (literally: de-sacralized) and rededicated to the Cult of Reason, the atheist cult of the Revolution. It was also used as a warehouse for storing food. The transformation of Europe’s sacred sites into warehouses or stables was actually quite common during the time of secularization in the 18th and 19th century, when anti-clerical governments seized Church properties or dissolved monastic communities.
Here we are gathering in the square — or parvis — in front of Notre Dame. This was the 30th year of the pilgrimage, and in the past decade they have usually attracted between 10,000 and 15,000 people (!!), but apparently in the past couple of years, the number has gotten smaller — maybe because of the economy. I am terrible at estimating amounts of people, but I guess I’d say around 8,000 people were there. 90% of them are French, and many of them are schoolkids and Catholic scouts groups. There was also a pretty large group of families marching with kids (though they didn’t walk the whole distance).
Late 19th century statue of Charlemagne.
The statues in the middle, in front of the rose window, are Mary and the Christ Child flanked by angels. The two standing at a distance, but still linked by their symmetrical positions in front of the other windows, are Adam and Eve: fallen humanity being united and elevated by the New Creation.
Below them is a line of statues depicting the twenty-eight kings of Judah. They are the line that produced Christ, and they also have a certain earthly and royal character, which is why from the late middle ages they had come to represent the kings of France. And because they were thought to be the kings of France, they were targeted in the Revolution, and had their heads knocked off. I guess they weren’t found again until a nearby excavation rediscovered a bunch of them — in 1977. (Now those heads are in a museum, so I guess what we see isn’t medieval but was “restored” sometime in between.)
Notre Dame has a very geometrical unity and compactness that I like a lot, even if it’s not as huge and ambitious as what we’ll see at Chartres.
We Germans heading in. The blue and white flag is the Bavarian flag, if you didn’t know… I followed it around a lot.
Here’s the nave… awfully blah! (As far as Gothic cathedrals go…)
But very fancy vestments.
After Mass, as the groups begin to file out. I love that haze of light in the apse, the trace of incense.
One look at the elevation, and then
The tympanum on the western portal. The archivolts are chock full of angels and saints — the court of Heaven. Christ stands on the trumeau (central column of a door), while above him people are being raised from the dead, and then judged and sorted, while at the very top, Christ sits in judgment. This is the classic west portal tympanum design, the Last Judgment. It reminds everyone who enters:
“I am the door. By me, if any man enters in, he shall be saved; and he shall go in and go out, and shall find pastures.” (John 10:9)
As well as:
“You are going to die. And then what??” (Paraphrase)
This is no entrance foyer with greeters and a built-in café — it was a more robust age!
The statues on the jamb (the sides of the door) were restored in the 19th century… they were also destroyed or heavily damaged in the Revolution.
These are the Twelve Apostles, by the way. (Or, minus Judas and plus Paul.) Each apostle is supported by a personified Virtue, and above each apostle is the corresponding Vice. I can’t really figure out which one is which, but all of the Vices look nasty.
The base of the trumeau — you can just barely see Christ’s feet, where he’s stamping down the Beast. And I didn’t show much of the Christ statue, but in that pose, he’s teaching, and this pedestal he’s standing on is covered with depictions of the seven liberal arts. Knowledge and faith are not opposed.
Well, it was time to leave, so after a small amount of confusion* we got in our groups and headed out down the streets of Paris.
* On one level, the organization of this event was incredible. They transported a camp for ~10,000 people from place to place, and managed all the logistics of getting flaggers in the streets where we walked and handling medical/emergency support, etc. On the other hand, I hardly ever knew what was happening next or where I was supposed to be. This might be because I just can’t pick up as much in German, but chiefly because: the organizers are French. More on this later.
Oh and in case you were wondering: Yes, the organizers are French, and it takes place in France, so everything from the Mass readings to the “pilgrim’s handbook” that everyone got was completely in French. This was also a bit difficult for the Germans, but we muddled along.
In all of my pictures you’ll notice the priests wearing cassocks (their long black robes) and people in religious orders wearing their particular habits. Cassocks aren’t very common among Catholic priests anymore — remember these guys are traditionalists — and although I like it, I can’t BELIEVE they manage to do it on this pilgrimage. It was quite hot during the day when we were walking, and here they were wearing a BLACK full-body covering. But I think most of them had been on the pilgrimage before, and all of them seemed in very good spirits. Definitely better than me — I’m a wuss.
This first part was fun (walking through Paris!) but a bit stressful (walking through Paris!) We had to try and stay with our group but also walk quickly through crosswalks and so on, and the pace was really fast. We left Notre Dame at around 9am, and walked for about 2 hours and 45 minutes before our first break.
Water break with the Dominicans. There were also apples and outhouse trucks. I didn’t have to use the bathroom the whole day… a sign that I was a bit dehydrated, since I drank about 5 liters of water, but it did mean that I didn’t have to worry about standing in the long lines at the outhouse trucks.
By our first break, the German groups had somehow fallen a ways behind, and so when we showed up for our water break that was supposed to be 15 minutes (!) we only stayed for about 5 minutes (!!!). I had time to grab a new 2-liter water bottle, eat an apple, and start to take off my shoes, and then the priest leading the Bayern group called us all over and made us start again. At first I didn’t understand, so I started following them without retying my shoes, thinking we were just changing locations at the break spot. I finally caught on after five minutes and stopped to tie my shoes — and fell behind my group again.
In retrospect, I worried too much about keeping up with my group, because nothing truly terrible happens to you if you fall behind and march with a different chapter (as I would learn). But I was never quite sure of how things went, and I didn’t want to fall back into a French-speaking clump of people and suddenly have no way of knowing what was going on. Plus there was singing and praying going on, which I wouldn’t be able to do in French.
The Germans marching through the French countryside. When else will you see something like this??
We walked through some woodland for a while, and eventually came out on top of a hill overlooking a big field. That field was our lunch break. I plopped down on the ground and that felt great — but the thing about big fields is: no shade. Luckily I’d brought a baseball cap with me (which my host mom provided, last-minute), but it was still difficult to sit out in the sun for an hour after getting so hot walking for another hour and a half. I got more water and some bread, and the rest of the food we had to provide ourselves. I still wasn’t drinking enough water, and I don’t think I ate enough of my food during the day, either. I had the foolish idea that I should try and conserve my food, and I wanted to wait until I felt hungry. But you don’t actually feel like eating after lots of heat and exercise, so I didn’t, and that wasn’t great, because by the evening I was weak and dehydrated, in addition to being totally exhausted. I learned better on the following days.
After lunch we started off again, and walked for two and a half hours. This was the toughest leg — or so I thought until the one after that — and then the one after that. Because we ended up walking until 8pm that night. Subtracting our hour of lunch, and not counting our “15 minute breaks” (since only one of ours lasted that long) we walked 10 hours and around 42 kilometers (26 miles).
Why did the Germans keep lagging behind and getting mixed up with each other? I’m not sure. At our second-to-last break, someone joked, “Wer soll den Deutschen ordnen?” or something similar. “Who’ll put the Germans in order?” Normally the Germans have “alles in Ordnung!”
We passed a few village churches that I was DYING to have a look at. But I couldn’t.
I was delighted with all the little French houses and things, which are so different from the style of houses in Germany.
At this point, I remember, the pain had left my calves and traveled up to my hips. We’d been walking about eight or nine hours and I’d gotten worn down physically and emotionally. I made a couple friends during the first two stretches, but the last three I walked alone. The last half hour or so of the trek was a grueling uphill slope, and I honestly thought I would have to stop with every step. Surely your body parts will break off after a certain amount of use? Nope. So I kept on somehow, although I’d started to pray a lot, and my prayer went: Please, please, please. Help, help, help. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.
We did get to camp, a bit after 8pm. Then I had to find my baggage, carry it all around while I found the German tent, set up before it got too dark, wash as best I could in the water-troughs, and get some dinner, which you see here. Bread, and soup in a cup, plus what I could supplement it with from my stores. I was so. exhausted. When I first set my stuff down in the tent, I just laid down on top of it and couldn’t move for a good ten minutes. Once I got some more food in me, I improved a little. And although I was tired, I wasn’t stiff or in pain, and I barely noticed the blisters that had started to form on my heels.
HA HA HA. Did you catch that foreshadowing?
But this camp was HUGE, accommodating as it did some 10,000 people, all in a big field, with group tents sorted by gender and country, clusters of family and scout kid camps, and also had a makeshift canteen and washing area (the aforementioned water troughs — the women in a tent, the men outdoors!). I went to sleep right away, but then woke up a few hours later because I finally had to go to the bathroom. After that, it took me a while to get back to sleep… yet, somehow, when the wake-up call came (at 5am), I didn’t feel too bad at all. And the music that played to wake us up — and the whole time we were in camp, actually — was a kind of mixtape of very famous, very beautiful sacred music. It was totally bizarre to be packing up our camping gear while Allegri’s Miserere played, or the Halleluja chorus. (Also: how out of the proper liturgical season! Ha!)
Oh, by the way, it was like 6am. Here are the luggage trucks. And here I made a fateful mistake.
There I was, all packed up, feeling refreshed and ready for a new day, and I walked past part of the American chapter. I knew they were the Americans because these days I can pick up the droning, atonal cadence of an American voice from miles away. Americans! I love them! I went to say hi, and also asked where the “Etranges” (foreigners) truck was (I was refreshed, but still tired enough not to want to have to walk from one end of the truck-line to the other carrying all my stuff). And the super nice, oh-so-seductively-familiar Americans told me: Oh, it doesn’t really matter which truck you put them in. They all go to the same place anyway. Just remember the name of the one you put your stuff in.
I did what they said. Dun dun dun.
But I had no chords of dread playing in my head that morning. In fact, it was the best part of the pilgrimage for me. I found my friends I’d made the day before, and chatted about how we were doing, and we set off in the cool morning across still-dewy fields.
Now seems like a good time to talk about what a pilgrimage is for, and why Christians started doing these things so many centuries ago.
What a pilgrimage is not is a rally or a demonstration or a revival-tent or most of the other things that seem analogous at first glance. It’s not political, although it’s a communal and public act, and it’s not an “tool for evangelism,” at least in the sense of attracting in nonbelievers — none of the spiritual reflections we had were geared toward newcomers, and there was none of that faint sheen of desperation that comes with evangelism events (whether Catholic or Protestant). Although most of the participants were teens and young people, it is not a youth retreat, since those are usually about bonding by having fun, and this (you might have gathered) is more painful than fun. It is a pilgrimage!
(some well-known pilgrims on their way to Canterbury…)
Although pilgrimages have been known in various ages and throughout many world religions, Christian pilgrimages began in the early centuries as Christians traveled to sites in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. As Christianity spread into Europe (and Africa and Asia!), new holy people and holy events grew alongside, and Christians were drawn to new sites of pilgrimage. Pilgrimages came to play a gigantic role in medieval religious, economic, and literary culture.
These were the kind of destination-directed pilgrimage which are all about holy places, holy objects, and the consecration of geography. It was tied to both acts of devotion or reverence (for the presence of God and the holy in the mundane) and acts of penitence or petition (showing God you are sorry, and asking for things). Chartres was a very famous pilgrimage site in the middle ages because of its (supposed) relic of the veil that Mary wore during Christ’s birth. Aside from the whole “saints’ relics” thing, I feel like penitence might be the tricky thing to grasp here for modern and/or non-Catholic people, so I’ll revisit it in a sec.
(St Brendan and St Boniface – source for the Boniface image)
At the same time, coming out of the monastic tradition in early medieval Ireland, we have something called the peregrinatio pro Christo, which I also want to group under the category of a pilgrimage, although it is more of a wandering or self-imposed exile. These monks would leave their homes and monasteries and head out into the world — into the “desert” or literally into the ocean — on open-ended travels “for the love of Christ,” who was also a stranger in the world. In their society, leaving the protection of family and clan was the ultimate extremism — like it would be for us to give all our money away and live as homeless people on the streets, or perhaps as illegal aliens, outside the structural protections of society. Of course, lots of these monks managed to do their share of preaching, teaching, and monastery-founding in the places where they ended up. But at bottom it is the idea of turning yourself over to God completely and unconditionally and following where he leads you.
(“Come, follow me,” says Jesus. “Leave the fish. Just load them in any of the boats — they all go to the same place, anyway.”)
So we have these two different concepts: that of going somewhere, deliberately aiming for something — and (in a way) the idea of not going somewhere. Abandoning yourself to the will of God, or the rolling of the ocean. It sort of starts to remind you of something:
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents… for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
Abraham was the first wanderer for God, and medieval people, who were steeped in a scriptural culture, were not ignorant of this. In fact, for medieval people life itself was pilgrimage — an unpredictable and demanding walk toward a yet unseen heavenly city, which required placing absolute trust in God. The Christian person lives a particular kind of life on two levels, because he belongs to both heaven and earth, as Hebrews goes on to claim:
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers [in Latin, peregrinus] and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland… they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”
In fact, etymologically speaking, all pilgrimages have their roots here. The word “stranger” here was translated as “peregrinus” when the Bible was translated into Latin in the 4th century, and grew in Christian parlance to mean “stranger on earth, citizen in heaven.” (And “pilgrim” in English comes from “pelegrin” in French, which comes from “peregrinus” — in case the etymology was confusing. In German it’s “Pilger” — or “Wallfahrer,” which has a more complicated etymology…)
So… how does all this fit in with what I did? I can tell you, I wasn’t thinking very much about the historical and theological context of my pilgrimage while I was doing it. I sort of thought I would happily contemplate it while I walked through all this French woodland, but actually the sheer physical trauma of it took over my mind.
This is also a lot like life.
I’ve never really been a person who takes to life very easily. I can remember something my mom said to me the summer I turned fifteen: “You know, Kristen, not everything in life has to be such a battle.” I think I put on my headphones. “It does for me,” I said. And actually the most emotionally difficult part of this long, grueling walk was thinking about how much it felt like an intensified version of my normal state. Tired, often unable to communicate, a little defensive, unsure of where the next rest would come, but thinking about it constantly. Unable to let go of my bodily pain, how could I imagine giving up control of my heart and my whole life? It sounds really important and great in theory, but actually doing it seems impossible.
And so we come to penitence. There’s a whole swath of Christian culture that would like to erase pain and suffering off the board, when it comes to understanding the Christian life. I don’t just mean the health & wealth gospel, but more subtly, those theologies which would like to make the experience of suffering meaningless or empty, something you wait out until God just takes it away. The Catholic practice of penitence is opposed to this. Not because Catholic culture has always been super morbid, or has failed to believe in God’s goodness (though this might have been true for some), but because suffering has a face and it is Christ’s.
And penitence is nothing more than uniting our sufferings to the ultimate suffering and death of Christ, because his suffering has meaning and does bear fruit, and that fruit is the redemption of the world. Penitence is not just accepting suffering, but willingly taking it on (in certain forms) as an act of sorrow and contrition for the ways you have sinned, and uniting this suffering to Christ’s and presenting it to God on your behalf and for the world. It is rooted in trust and a kind of deep generosity.
I am not great at penitence. I thought up an explanation of my pilgrimage for the kids (they asked, but got bored before I finished): The Christian idea is giving up your own will for God’s, “dying” to yourself. It’s what repentance means. But it’s hard to give up big real things without practice, and a pilgrimage is for practice. You have to practice this over and over until you’ll actually be ready to do it, with God’s help.
But like I told you above, my own “practice” at resigning myself to God’s will, or offering up the difficulties, or trying to cultivate Christian detachment, basically dribbled down into “please take it away, please don’t make me do this any more, please let me go lie down in my nice bed.” So maybe I don’t practice enough. (Or maybe I should train a little bit before I walk another marathon. Just a thought.)
So there you have it: that’s what a pilgrimage is all about. Now: onward in my recap!
Here is one of the children’s chapters. The kids would walk a certain portion, then wait at certain meeting places to be bussed to the next break. Then they would walk another short distance, and then wait, and so on. I’m not sure how many miles in total they walked, but they were MUCH MORE ENERGETIC than any of the adults, let me tell you. They would stand by the road and sing and cheer us on.
The second day is when I started having problems. The first half went pretty well — it was tiring, but we didn’t walk quite as long, and we had a three-hour lunch break because we also had Mass. (Remember, it was Pentecost Sunday!) I met an American couple (well, the wife was German) and talked to them for a while, which made the time pass so much more quickly! Speaking my own language! But I had stiffness in my calves that almost cramped up from time to time, and I was walking a little differently because I had majorly big blisters on my heels now, so that messed up my muscles even more.
Here’s the choir.
And the portable sanctuary. Of course the traditionalist folks have a portable sanctuary that is more beautiful than many a regular parish’s actual sanctuary.
Adorable lederhosen shorts!
During communion. The yellow and white umbrellas show where all the priests are dispensing the Host.
Getting the flags up and ready to keep walking, after the lunch break…
We had to walk past a highway, where I learned a little bit about American culture. Did you know they had totem poles in Montana?
On the first two days, the Germans were walking quite close to the front of the pilgrimage — maybe 20 or 30 chapters in? The next day we walked around chapter 140 (out of 200). Each chapter had around 50 people, so… we stretched a long ways.
This is also where I started to lag. The sun was hot and we walked without shade for a long time, and my leg muscles were in serious pain. Going through the fields like this sucked because we got jammed up and sometimes had to do start-stop-start for several minutes. After about an hour and a half (during which I also had to jump out into the fields to relieve myself — finally hydrated!) I dropped off and sat with the kids and other people who were having trouble, waiting for a car. This was a mixed blessing: I got to rest, but that gave my muscles more time to stiffen up. And I got to see a bit of the behind-the-scenes action, but also felt disappointed with myself for not walking that whole day. All in all, I skipped about 90 minutes, or 5-6km, and met up with my group at the next break.
Some of the clergy and religious got to be zipped around on the back of motorcycles. Jealous!
This guy looks like something out of Robin Hood.
In the meantime, I acquainted myself a little with the French medical personnel (hardly any English speakers, in stark contract to Germany) and some of the string-pullers behind this real feat of logistics. I thought there might be some kind of system to it, but found out you had to fight your way into a car, or risk waiting around for hours on the side of the road. Eventually I got into a car with a woman who spoke French at a frantic pace, and who literally got out of the car to argue with the other pilgrimage staff when she drove the car into a group of medical vans, and then had to back it all the way back out, going on and on in French to us passengers, who just sat in mute submission. She had a piece of paper with the coordinates of the different break points, and a GPS system in her car, but she jiggled it and muttered at it and seemed very confused. I was sure we were going to get seriously lost. She drovereally really fast.But we survived, and made it to the next break point, and then she cheerfully wished us a good pilgrimage.
The last leg of that day’s walk lasted a little over 90 minutes, I think, and for me it was brutal. My calves felt like they were all tied up in knots, and I tried to ignore my blisters and let myself walk normally, but I think I forced it, and that hurt, too. By the end, I was literally crying from pain, especially because there was a downhill slope into that night’s camp, and as much as regular walking hurt, walking downhill hurt so, so much more.
Then I soon realized that this camp was not just one big square, like the last one, but spread out like a worm over several little hills. And so each regional group was in a different spot, and their luggage trucks were parked near that spot, not all in the middle. Now I didn’t know where the German tents were, and I didn’t know where my luggage was, but I knew they would be in different places. And I could barely walk. I cried some more. Then I started walking to one end of the camp, where eventually I ran into a beautiful wondrous English-speaking French girl who showed me where the Germans were on her map (the opposite end of where I was, of course), and also where my luggage was (right up the hill from where we were!) So, very slowly, with legs like … I don’t know, boards, painful boards, I managed to gather all my stuff and set up my sleeping bag in the tent.
It was earlier than the previous evening, so people were relaxing and talking, playing guitar, etc., and there was going to be Eucharistic Adoration that night. We’d only walked something like 30 or 35km that day, with a long midday break, so people seemed much more energetic. I was less tired than the day before, but at this point walking was a major undertaking… somehow I managed to wash (even shampoo my hair), get dinner, borrow muscle cream and blister bandaids from a very nice German lady, sort my stuff, and go to bed.
The next morning, though… I still couldn’t walk. I hobbled around, packing up and eating breakfast (bread and hot chocolate), but then I sat peacefully and waited for our turn to march out of camp. When we got lined up and started off, however, I realized that the real problem for me was going to be speed. I could walk, but very slowly. I found my friends and they agreed that if I couldn’t even walk, I needed to get a ride. So I stepped out again before we’d completely left the campsite, and waited for a van… again, they came and came, but always for other people. I talked a bit with a couple of German kids who’d also dropped out — one with a sprained ankle — and also met a really nice French guy with excellent English. It was a big relief, finally having someone who was able to ask the people in charge what was going on and what we should do, and who could then fill me in.
Eventually we got on a bus and rode to the second break — skipping about 3.5 hours, with only 2 more to go. This was the shortest day, a mere 22km or so. I decided that I had to walk the last section in to Chartres, if it killed me. But I strategized. I started walking toward the very front of the line, and went at my own pace, so I could fall back and back through the line and eventually (so I thought) end up with the Germans again. But as it happened, I walked faster than I thought (or the line was much, much longer than I thought), so I didn’t see the Germans at all until we all arrived at Chartres…
Here’s the chapter dedicated to “Our Lady of East and West” — a group of Middle Eastern Catholics from various countries.
Sorry for the blurriness. I just like all the flags.
That guy on the left is the most European man I have ever seen in my life.
There it is — Chartres! Sorry for the suburban houses in the way. We spotted Chartres earlier, when it was just fields, but on my camera it looked much smaller than in reality.
Closer and closer… this was my other favorite part of the pilgrimage, when I could walk by myself, at my own pace, watching the innumerable French chapters go by singing their songs, taking the energy to pray, and singing G.T. songs to myself. “Joshua, Joshua, Joshua one verse nine!”
Eventually we got into the city, and I got out of line to wait and see if the Germans were coming anytime soon. They weren’t.
I even asked the British chapter to look at their list of groups, and saw how far behind the Germans were. It also made me think, man, how much more fun would it have been to march with English speakers the whole time? Probably very fun. But I’m still glad I got the chance to speak nothing but German for four and a half days.
Speaking of singing (uh, a few paragraphs up), there was this one song that the French chapters sang over and over and over. It was the official anthem of pilgrims going to Chartres, I suppose, and it goes:
Chartres sonne, Chartres t’appelle, gloire, honneur au Christ-Roi!
With lots of verses, and after each verse, the refrain again. It means: “Chartres sounds [the bugle], Chartres calls you, glory and honor to Christ the King!”
Those French kids are indefatigable, I tell you.
FINALLY we were there. I’d straggled in without my group, and the cathedral had already filled up inside, so I just sat down outside in the shade…
…and before long I was surrounded by a troupe of French schoolgirls.
As Mass started, all the chapters’ flags were marched in — here’s the US.
And the Germans and the Brits.
Then the bells rang and we sang Lauda Jerusalem — I have another short video to give you an idea:
After Mass ended (they had screens set up so that the thousands of us who were still outside could follow along), we were free to explore the cathedral!
The right side (south) portal on the western porch…
The tympanum — Christ in Majesty — from the main western portal.
Here’s just a sample of the different textures and patterns — the sculpture at Chartres is incredibly rich! But I won’t post too many of my pictures of the western porch, because the lighting wasn’t that great.
The nave… unfortunately it was all gated off because they’re doing restoration work in the chancel. Boo!
Oh man. This is their high altar. Yuck.
Beautiful! Chartres is famous for (among other things) its stained glass windows. They are all largely medieval (13th century) survivals, but if you want to know more, you can go read the Wikipedia page on Chartres, which has a lot of great info.
This is the western facade from the inside.
These three lancet windows survive from the 12th century! c. 1145-55.
Shortly before Germany invaded France in 1939, all the glass from the cathedral was removed and carefully stored until the end of the war. The cathedral then narrowly missed being bombed by the Allies. An American officer questioned his orders to destroy the cathedral — and he volunteered to go behind enemy lines and find out whether the cathedral was indeed being used by the Germans. It wasn’t, and so the cathedral was spared. (The officer was later killed in action near Chartres, in 1944).
Isn’t that blue amazing? It’s the famous “Chartres blue.”
You can see a bit of the renovation work here.
Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to look at the south porch and facade. Instead I took a whole bunch of pictures of the north porch. The lighting was awesome.
Well, this bit isn’t awesome, but I wanted you to get a look at it from far back — to see how deep those telescoped portals go!
I could gush and gush over all of this, but I’m running out of words, and hopefully the pictures speak for themselves.
Saints always stand as if weightless, with their toes down beneath their heels, and no sign of gravity. They’ve escaped the weighty bonds of earth.
Poor Jesus got his head knocked off. The north porch was damaged in the French Revolution — before the townspeople put a stop to it. As a result, Chartres is very well preserved. (The Revolutionary Committee, I read, also tried to blow up Chartres with explosives, but the architect they hired to plan it convinced them that all the demolished stone would fill the streets and be too much effort to haul away.)
Some more damage, this time to David and Goliath.
I could have spent a long, long time here.
Look, Chartres’ famous flying buttresses.
But it was time to walk to the train station, gather our bags, find our respective buses, and go home… another 12 hour bus trip overnight, and accidentally left behind my (very cheap) cell phone at some rest stop in France. But it was a relief to know that soon I would get to shower and sleep in my own bed.
And I got a ride back to the S-Bahn with some other people from Munich, so I didn’t have to walk the 2k to the bus. Thank you God.
That’s pretty much it for my Chartres pilgrimage, except that, for the historical record, since I posted the picture of how I looked at the beginning, I should post the picture of how I looked at the end:
Wah. Clearly this is after I’d showered and everything, though. But look at my pain. At my sorrow and exhaustion.
My blisters stopped bothering me right away (thanks to those blister bandaids) but my legs and feet continued to be stiff and sore for a good several days. I will think twice before I go on a 100k trek again. (All in all, I walked, I think, about 15k less than the the others.) INTERESTING FACT: I read that some French youths who made this pilgrimage in the first half of the 20th century (when there was no organized group event) would take a WEEK to walk from Paris to Chartres, taking time every evening for lots of conversation and songs. I think, on the whole, I’d like that slower pace a bit better. But when it’s a sprint, you can do it in three days, and that’s something.
Thanks for reading, if you got to the end, and a belated happy Pentecost!