Monday, July 20, 2009


What strikes us about this figure from Chartres Cathedral, carved sometime around 1145, is its extraordinary expression of regality, its queenliness, its sense of peacefulness, its quiet power of dignity and belief. She holds the canon of hope in her hands and offers us the most human face on the central portal.

In essence, she points the way in, through the door, to the maze, to the mysteries of a belief that demands understanding, not only of stone, but also of the human implication expressed in this stone. She has withstood not only the weather, but the vagaries of history. She was spared the worst carnage of the French Revolution and all the other iconoclastic terrors of the centuries after it. That may be a result of accident, or possibly a result of respect and of hope.

Carved in stone, the queen is a simulacrum of flesh. She represents a spiritual presence and a spiritual future. Yet, because She is stone and formed in lifelike three dimensions, she points to a future that includes the three dimensions of flesh. Resurrection, a key belief of the Christian faith, has depended on the rising of the body from the grave, and thus a persistence of the flesh in the afterlife.

The stoniness of the queen tells us there is hope after death. But it also tells us that such hope is essentially meaningless if it means only that the spirit endures. It is essential that the flesh endures, or else our consciousness would perish with the flesh. The most powerful statement the sculptor could make is to render this figure to seem lifelike enough to convince us she is not only a symbol, but a fact. Fact and belief cohere to produce hope.