Chartres and the Burden

Arriving at Chartres

Back in 2016 I wrote a blog post on our Therapy Duo site about Chartres Cathedral and “living waters”. I was taken by the engulfing waters in a pediment of a shrine in the exterior of Chartres cathedral, during a visit there. So many riches in this cathedral!

The visit has been coming back to me recently – especially the sound of Sainte Marie – the bourdon (low-pitched bell) of Chartres. (You can find a catalog of French bourdons here.)

For better or worse I chose 1 May (2016) as the day for my son and me to visit Chartres Cathedral, little knowing that all touristic facilitates are closed on this particular day. (This happens only trwice a year, I since discovered.) We arrived by train at 10:45am. By 11:00am we were at the cathedral, soon realising our “error”, as worshippers arrived for a service. 

It was a bright, cloudless, cold day with a keen wind blowing from the North, and not surprisingly, very few tourists!

Above is the picture I took at that moment. What can’t be seen was, to me, the most moving part of the experience: the bourdon Saint Marie tolling dolefully and untiringly. I felt her bodily. And she seemed to toll forever – monotonous, significant…

Here’s a YouTube link to Sainte Marie’s handiwork.

And now, reflecting on the bourdon and the etymology of the English burden, I’m taken by the richness that unfolds:

1. The burden or base of a melody. That which carries the essential burden of something deep, which has to be carried and not ignored.
2. The drone pipe of an organ, or the lowest-pitched stop of an organ or bell of a carillon. An endless reminder of continuity, counterpoint, shadow.
3. A large, low-pitched bell not part of a diatonically tuned ring of bell. (This is Sainte Marie.)
4. A bumblebee, the unlikely, heavy and hovering insect.
5. A staff used by the pilgrim, the foreign wanderer. His ensign for journeying, his musical grid, his office, his station in life.

​There was a burden to be experienced there, and I felt it as a visitor…

Burden has quite a range of application: the heavy load, the responsibility; the proportion of ore and flux to fuel in the blast furnace; the “burden of gad steel” (120 lbs); the burden of birth (“the burden of two fair sons”); the level of cancer cells in a body.

And thinking of Saint Marie as symbol of the living, the eternal; reminding us not to overstep our staff in life; not to plunder and forget. And not to forget those who didn’t forget, who enabled such marvels as Chartres Cathedral and Saint Marie to be wrought into material existence.