Kees Zoeteman and Astrid van Zon
Once you pass the Boulevard periferique of Paris, you have the choice of storming into southern France on either the A6 or the A11 motorways. The A11 takes you west from Chartres to Angers, where ancient art treasures await the modern tourist to be rediscovered. Why was the Apocalypse so obviously alive almost a millennium ago and has that knowledge been faded away? In Chartres, with its famous cathedral, the world of the spirit is towering high above the landscape. And if, after visiting Chartres, one bothers to drive on to Angers one finds in the castle of Louis of Anjou a gigantic darkened space where on the wall long stretches of tapestry, with a hundred or so scenes from the Apocalypse, glance mysteriously at the viewer. Why aren’t there long lines at the entrance here, and isn’t this castle at least as famous as Disneyland in Paris? Because Disneyland attracts young people? Fine, but then why aren’t there long lines of elder people here?
Or do those elder people enter the depths of France along the other motorway, the Route du Soleil, which is more eastward? This A6 easily takes a tourist in a day from Amsterdam to the town of Auxerre where two cathedrals along the Yonne River hold their secrets. No crowds of people here either.
We will explore both routes based on the towns mentioned and their monumental buildings with their art. Is here nothing of interest anymore or have we lost our sensitivity to their secrets?
The cathedral of Chartres has an eventful history of more than a thousand years and still exerts a great radiating effect on the country, culture and spiritual life (Frank Teichmann, Der Mensch und sein Tempel, Chartres; Stuttgart: Urachhaus, 1991). Chartres is also a place in Europe where Gothic architecture can be admired in its original splendor. The construction of this cathedral was a model for many later cathedrals such as those at Reims and Rouen.
From time immemorial, the site has been a sacred place within pre-Christian traditions, as expressed, for example, in the legend of ‘the noble lady who will give birth’. The first Christian apostles who reached this place, tied in with this legend. As a result, the place was dedicated to the feminine, both pre-Christian and in the Christian period, and thus to birth and new life. Chartres is one of the few places where the pre-Christian mysteries and the Christian mysteries are integrated. Pre-Christian, there was a cult, with associated rituals, surrounding ‘the black Madonna’. It took place in a cave with a water spring with healing power. The Madonna concerns a life-size statue of a noble lady with a boy on her lap, representing the prophecy of ‘the woman who will give birth’, the virgo paritura. The pearwood statue was blackened by soot from burning torches. It is assumed that here the cleansing effect of fire was employed as a symbol of renewal and that the blackening was no accident. The ritual that took place had a connection with midsummer and midwinter, with light and darkness. In the summer months, the sculpture was above the earth and worshipped by daylight; in the fall, it was brought into the depths of the cave and surrounded by torches. In this way, the essence of nature had been reborn and the promise of the birth of the child was fulfilled, according to René Querido (Vision und Morgenruf in Chartres, 1989, Novalisverlag, p.22). The alternation of being under the earth and above the earth is reminiscent of the Greek myth of Persephone, who takes care of the cycle of life forces in the plant world. In this natural cycle, death and resurrection succeed eachother continuously.
The image of the subterranean woman can still be found in the crypt remaining from the original Romanesque church in Chartres after a devastating fire in 1194. This cript was integrated into the foundation of the new cathedral. However, in the turbulent times of the French Revolution, this ancient object of the black Madonna was taken from its hiding place and burned. Nowadays, only a copy can be admired. Murals in the crypt still give an impression of the original sculpture.
As early as the first century AD, the place was dedicated to Mary. The mysteries of Mary, the noble woman who gave birth to the child, assumed from this moment on a role well into the Middle Ages. One of the treasures of the cathedral is a veil that Mary is said to have worn at the birth of Jesus. It came to Chartres in 876. Later, the new grand cathedral was dedicated on September 8, the day celebrated by the church as the date of the birth of Mary. The mysteries of birth and of Mary continue into the School of Chartres. In all these movements, the birth of the child it is not only a physical birth but also a spiritual birth, the birth of the new man with a higher consciousness.
To understand the meaning of this cathedral, we must look not only at its architecture but also at the personalities who worked here, and whose thoughts and experiences are depicted on its walls and facades. And to their inner world, which can be experienced sensitively through the art and building designs that surround you as a visitor. The total artwork is so comprehensive that only a few elements, which directly touch upon the Apocalypse, will be mentioned here.
In doing so, this cathedral is an unmatchable example of what is also the goal of “project-apocalypse” as presented at this website: to awaken interest in and understanding of man’s spiritual origin and future, also by using art.
The central role of Chartres in European culture is linked to the Irish-born Johannes Scotius Eriugena (c. 810-877), who worked in France and introduced a modern way of thinking about nature. After him, the Italian Fulbertus (c. 960-1028) bishop of Chartres Cathedral in 1006, is considered the founder of the School of Chartres. He deepened the scientific approach, emphasized having a pure soul and had much medical knowledge. Fulbertus speaks of Mary whose wisdom we can receive in the night as Stella Maris, star of the sea. Our true self that we meet in the night can be inspired by Mary Sophia, so that we are reconnected with the primal intention with which we as souls came to earth. Fulbertus also played a major role in the rebuilding of the cathedral after a fire in 1020. Because of him, many students attended the School of Chartres, which became known for its down-to-earth intellectuality, mutual brotherhood and a spiritual life that pursued the highest goals. In the School of Chartres, the path of initiation proceeds by the study of the seven liberal arts through which the soul is purified and man can develop into a noble soul. If man succeeds in purifying the soul and becoming ‘like a virgin’, the eternal self, the true self, can be born and a new man results. The teachers of Chartres were concerned with this inner birth. The internal creation of this new man is accompanied by his external struggle to heal the earth.
Several bishops played an important role after Fulbertus, such as Thierry de Chartres, who excelled in the teaching of the seven liberal arts transmitted by Martianus Capella (fifth century), Bernard Sylvestrus and John of Salisbury. However, Alanus ab Insulis (Alain de Lille) (c. 1120-1203) is considered the most significant teacher of the School of Chartres. With him the School of Chartres reached its peak. Although its effects continued to be visible in many new sculptures, after him the actual spiritual flowering shifted to Paris where Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) and Siger von Brabant (c. 1235 – c. 1280) acted as teachers. Alanus ab Insulis was one of the last to describe the seven maidens as representatives of the seven liberal arts in his book Anti-Claudianus. These seven liberal arts, a combination of three alpha and four beta sciences, were also an initiatory pathway associated with the mystery of the Holy Grail (Rudolf Steiner, Mysterienwahrheiten und Weihnachtsimpulse. Alte Mythen und ihre Bedeutung, GA 180; Frans Lutters, The Grail Mystery and the Seven Free Arts, Assen: Nearchus, 2006). They represent seven soul qualities that can be developed and which refer to the seven planetary spheres of our solar system (Steiner, GA 286, p.28). These seven soul qualities are united in the noble woman Sophia, the purified human soul, also called the Holy Spirit or the New Isis.
Although the cathedral’s north and south portal are of much interest, as well as its magnificent stained-glass windows, we will limit ourselves here to the images at the main entrance, the west or king’s portal. In the center of this king’s portal, above the main entrance, is the tympanum dominated by Christ. To its left, the smaller tympanum shows the ascension of Christ, standing on a band of clouds, between two angels. The right tympanum shows the birth of Christ, a Mary with child, and around it representatives of the seven liberal arts.
The middle tympanum shows the majestic Christ seated on the throne, holding in his left hand the sealed book. Around the throne are four animal-like figures and around them three arches. One of twelve angels and two of twelve (=24) elders respectively. The first image of the throne is depicted here, after John is lifted in consciousness to a higher sphere. In the window rosette on the south side the same theme of the throne can be found.
We will now consider the three tympanums of the king’s portal in more detail. The right tympanum depicts the enthroned woman with the child on her lap. This woman refers to the black Madonna. Below the tympanum are depicted the proclamation and birth of Jesus. Noteworthy is the birth scene, where Mary lies in a kind of altar. The whole scene is framed by seven maidens, symbolizing the seven liberal arts along with their human representatives. As discussed, this refers to an initiatory path for the human soul to become purified virgin-like, allowing the higher self to be born as a child in this purified soul.
On the left tympanum we see the ascension of Christ. The clouds, into which the risen Christ is absorbed, are depicted as a rhythmic flowing motion. The image is surrounded by the twelve zodiac signs that represent cosmic space. Because of the combination of the zodiac signs with the images of the months, in which the course of the year is expressed, we are also dealing here with time. Is it only an image for the ascension of Christ or does this image also express the future, the return of Christ, which is represented in a similar image in the cloud sphere? His going away is at the same time also the image for his return: And I looked and I saw a white cloud, and on the cloud sat one like a Son of Man (Rev. 14:14). Thus, in addition to the ascension, a reference to the return of Christ in the etheric world can be seen.
In the central tympanum we see in the mandorla, the almond-shaped symbol of the coming together of heaven and earth, the enthroned Christ with the right hand in a blessing gesture and in the left hand the book. A calming and soothing effect emanates from the image. A number of wavy lines below the mandorla seem to indicate that we have risen above the clouds. Christ is surrounded by the four apocalyptic animal-like figures, the bull, the lion, the angel man and the eagle. They represent the universal heavenly man as well as the earthly individual man (Arthur Schult, p.97). The whole is surrounded by three garlands of twelve angels on the one hand and twice twelve elders on the other. They have crowns on their heads and musical instruments in their hands. Revelation 5 describes how these four animal-like figures and the 24 elders sing a new song after the Lamb has opened the seven seals of the book. Later we hear that the new song can only be learned by the 144,000 victorious ones. It is the result of a new creative ability; man who has absorbed the Christ impulse now enters the fields of moral imagination and inspiration (Gottfried Richter, Chartres, Die Herrlichkeit der Kathedrale, Urachhaus, 1982, p. 59). Man sings a new song.
Standing before the king’s portal in Chartres, our soul can be awakened to the mysteries of birth and ascencion. We can be opened to the question of how we ourselves can be born as new human beings. The path of Christ, depicted for us from birth to ascension, is like a guide to be able to meet Christ as Son of Man across the threshold into the etheric sphere of earth. When the doors of the royal portal are opened, this threshold crossing becomes even more tangible. Gently, the question arises within us of who we are and who we can become.
A very different setting offers the castle of Angers. Against the sophistication of Chartres Cathedral, the outwardly bombastic castle contrasts quite a bit. Already in Roman times, a fort stood on the strategically located site of the castle. In the 9th century, the fortress came under the rule of the Dukes of Anjou. In 1204, the area was conquered by the French king Philip II. In the period 1240-1250, his grandson Louis IX had a huge castle built on the site of the fortress, including seventeen towers connected by walls. It formed a defensive structure against enemy attacks from the river Maine. Therefore, there is not much art on the outside of the castle. But those who take the trouble to go inside and descend into a lower part of this castle will not be disappointed.
Between 1373 and 1383, Louis I of Anjou, Duke of Anjou and second son of the French king John II, had a huge tapestry of more than 100 meters long constructed, depicting the Apocalypse. Supposedly, the total tapestry consisted of six strips, each over 30 meters long which held two layers of about 7 images each. The total piece of work included 84 images designed by the Flemish painter Jean de Bruges. The fabrication of the tapestries, according to his designs, probably took place in Paris at tapissier Robert Poincon (Fabienne Joubert, Inventer L’Apocalypse, in: Apocalypse, La teinture de Louis d’Anjou, ed. Jacques Cailleteau and Francis Muel, Editions du Patrimoine, Centre des monuments nationaux, Paris, 2015, 43-51). The tapestries fell into disuse over time, were partly used as carpets, and when they reappeared in the mid-nineteenth century they had been damaged, pieced, and partly lost. It is estimated that almost half of their surface has disappeared, although parts of the images have been saved. Still, 14 images have disappeared entirely. However, their design was still preserved. Despite these events, what remains and what has been on display to the public since 1954 in the chateau at Angers is very worthwhile. In few places can a version of the Apocalypse so fully portrayed be admired. The dimmed light in the room furnished for this exhibition contributes to the mesmerizing effect on the viewer.
To illustrate, some of the remarkable lines shown by the images will be described.
The central theme of the Apocalypse is the role of the Messiah, the Christ, and even more specifically in the language of the time in which the Apocalypse occurred: the Lamb, referring in part to the zodiac sign of Aries.
This theme recurs again and again in the form of the one who sits with God on the throne, on the one hand indicated by a golden halo in which a red sign of the cross is inserted, or literally depicted as a Lamb bearing the signs of having been sacrificed. Some examples of the latter are depicted here: (1) part of first throne view with the sacrificed Lamb and the four animal-like figures in the center, (2) Lamb on Mount Zion with the 144,000 and (3) God and the Lamb on the throne from which a river of the water of life springs in the New Jerusalem.
The dragon with the seven heads
An important role, which becomes more visible in the second part of the Apocalypse, is that of the red dragon with seven heads, a counterpower that tests man and through which man learns to choose freely between good and evil.
This dragon makes its appearance after the sounding of the seven trumpets. First we see the dragon raising itself before (1) a pregnant woman in heaven who is about to give birth to a child. At the conclusion of the Apocalypse, the opposing powers and those who have followed them gather for a final battle with Christ and his followers and besiege the holy city (2) where they reside.
The rider on the white horse
A third example is the theme of the rider on the white horse that appears in various forms. In Angers, a king riding a snow-white horse forms an impressive image almost at the beginning of the tapestry series. It is the first rider (1) to appear after the first seal of the book on God’s lap is opened. Another rider on a white horse appears toward the end of the Apocalypse as the Christ leading his followers (2) in the final battle with the opposing powers.
Those who step into the space with the dimmed light at the base of the castle are momentarily overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the quantity, color, refined beauty and intimacy of the tapestries. Then comes the question of how to proceed past those many tapestries with their meaningful contents? Fortunately, benches have been placed along the wall higher up from where you can quietly view the images. To take in 84 images intensely is quite a task and, of course, it is impossible to do so on the first visit. Many of the images show the seven-headed dragon and the beasts acting under its influence. As a visitor, you become aware that once we have crossed the threshold to the spiritual world, we will also encounter evil and that it takes a lot to be able to maintain ourselves in it. In Chartres, evil is less emphatically depicted than here in Angers. It makes clear that we must learn to perceive evil in such a way that we do not become trapped in it and our hearts can continue to speak.
Visitors wishing to become more closely acquainted with the theme of the rider on the white horse would do well to visit the crypt of Saint-Etienne Cathedral in Auxerre. However, those who think they will find access to the crypt just like that will be deceived. A carrier of a key must be activated somewhere in a store. This turns out to be at the back right of the church. After tickets are bought here, the man leads you to a large door that he opens with the key. Cold and dampness meet you.
After the man demonstrates how to open the door to the church again upon returning, one can descend independently through a series of steps into the darkness. With each step, peace and quiet increase. As automatically you keep quiet. Arriving at the bottom, there is an altar room and a circular arched choir. This Romanesque-style crypt was probably built between 1023-1035. The chapel shows on the ceiling a fresco of Christ on a white horse holding a scepter in his right hand. He is depicted in the center of a cross. The four planes that make up the cross show again four figures on white horses. Because of the wings of their riders, they are commonly described as four angels. These wield reins, in contrast to the central rider. This image is also found in earlier manuscripts but appears here for the first time as a mural. Particularly appealing are the ochre and earth tones in which the scene is depicted. Combined with the beautiful white of the horse and the grace and openness of Christ, the image takes on a serene effect.
The four angels surrounding the rider on the white horse may raise the question of whether this is the apocalyptic rider who appears at the end of the Apocalypse. Indeed, nowhere in the Apocalypse is there any mention of a scene in which the rider is surrounded by four angels. However, there is another clue that has to do with the number four and this horseman. These are the four names by which this horseman is described in Rev.19:11ff. When the Christ child, born of the heavenly woman, appears at the conclusion of the Apocalypse as the rider on the white horse, he is referred to by four names (Schult, p.313; Bock, p.313):
-Bearer of allegiance (faith) and truth,
-The name no one knows but himself (the God-I, who works in every human being),
-The Word of God (the Logos, the divine creative power).
-King of kings and Lord of lords (the freedom of the divine will).
Although the weathering of the effigies makes it difficult to discern details, the halo of the four accompanying horsemen does not appear to have a red cross like the central rider on the white horse. This one again has no wings like the four accompanying horsemen. Perhaps we may infer that these are indeed representing the four divine qualities or names that the Christ incorporates.
It is extraordinary that there is still the possibility for visitors to be present here alone and meditate in peace and quiet.
A blog about the rider on the white horse was published earlier: https://www.project-apocalypse.nl/uitleg-tekstfragementen-fragment-1/kalki-in-het-hindoeisme-en-de-belofte-van-de-ruiter-op-het-witte-paard/ . From it, it emerges that the theme of the rider on the white horse is an ancient one, that also plays a role in Hinduism as the tenth avatar yet to come.