October 31: Miracle at St. Fort, Chartres, France (1116)
The Abbot Orsini wrote: “In the year 1116, a chorister having fallen into the well of Saint Fort, which is in the church of Chartres, was saved by Our Lady. All the time that he was in the well, he heard the angels answering the public prayers which were chanted in the church; whence the custom arose at Chartres that the choir never answer aloud to the Dominus Vobiscum, chanted at High Mass and canonical hours.”
The Roman General Julius Caesar wrote that the area around Chartres, in the land belonging to the Carnutes, was the yearly meeting place of the Druids. It is said that since pre-historic times they assembled there from all over Western Europe.
The Cathedral of Chartres is built entirely upon a large subterranean crypt which dates from the 11th century. The crypt is unusually large, which accounts for the wide nave of the present Chartres Cathedral. Few people who visit the cathedral ever think to enter the crypt, though it is here in the depths beneath the famous cathedral that one can see the foundation of the great pillars that uphold the soaring heights of the nave, and also where the well of Saint Fort is located.
The Well of Saint’s Fort is from the ancient name of Locus Fortis, or The Strong Place. It used to be located outside the old, smaller church, and is where the bodies of the martyrs Saint Altin and Saint Eodald were thrown by the Vikings in a raid in the year 858. The well was filled in about the 17th century, but it has been restored, as the earth was removed again in 1901.
If one continues, and passes the well, they will come upon something that the very first Christians are said to have witnessed when they came to Chartres. They found there a statue of a woman seated upon a throne with a child on her knee, a statue that had been venerated by the Druids. It appears that they were aware of Isaiah’s prophesy that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. The statue was described by a 17th century thus:
“The Virgin sits on a chair, her Son sits on her knees and He gives the sign of blessing with His right hand. In His left hand He holds an orb. He is bare-headed and His hair is quite short. He wears a close-fitting robe girdled with a belt. His face, hands and feet are bare and they are of a shining grey-ebony color.
The Virgin is dressed in an antique mantle in the shape of a chasuble. Her face is oval, of perfect construction, and of the same shining black color. Her crown is very plain, only the top being decorated with flowers and small leaves. Her chair is one foot wide with four parts hallowed out at the back and carved. The statue is twenty-nine inches tall.”
It is interesting to note that the eyes of the Divine Child were open, while the Madonna’s eyes were closed. According to Cecil Headlam, the Druids “intended by this device to signify that faith was still in darkness, and that she whom they worshipped was not yet born. But the eyes of the Child, whom she in the fullness of time should supernaturally conceive and bear, were open; for He was without beginning and without end, the Spectator of all time and all existence.”
The statue survived the centuries until the year 1793, when it was burned during the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. The people rose up to defend their cathedral, and so the Cathedral of Chartres was not destroyed, although the crypt was used as a warehouse until the year 1857. The statue was then replaced with the copy that can currently been seen in the crypt.
St Fort Chartres
James Fitzhenry, Marian Calendar, roman-catholic-saints.com
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