Personal Prayer in the Cathedral
Praying in the cathedral can take a myriad of forms. While this is a parish church, it is also a much-visited UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being intentional about finding the most conducive times and places to pray can help.
People often take less than three seconds to gaze at something interesting in the cathedral. While they may remember how magnificent the cathedral is, they probably won’t recall how God was present. Take time while you are in Chartres to stay in one place, to listen for the still small voice of God, to look with eyes of faith, and to contemplate. If you do, you are likely to experience both the beauty of the cathedral and the beauty of God’s love for you.
When you find the place where you want to pray, what are you going to do next? Maybe nothing. Just sit. Wait. Stay open. Be present. Receive what comes without judging or questioning it. You may want to resist words; they may not be the best tool to deepen your experience. If you need something to “do,” you can always pay attention to your thoughts, the ones that say, “Nothing is happening.” “Why am I doing this?” “This is going nowhere.”
Or, you can pray in ways that have had meaning at other times and in other places, using a mantra or repeating one of God’s names, writing out a conversation with God, drawing from a place of prayer, or composing a photograph or series of photographs as a way to see what God is communicating to you. The goal is to allow your prayer to lead you deeper and deeper into God’s presence, so use whatever tools or techniques work. Holding the goal of connection will help you resist the temptation to distract yourself.
If you are looking for a personal challenge: Spend at least a half an hour in one place praying. Don’t move, even when tempted. Before you leave, formalize your prayer in some way–a final image, a two-line prayer, or a breath prayer of gratitude and release.
Most tours do not begin until mid-morning. If you arrive at the cathedral when it opens at 8h30, you will most often find it quiet. Many days there is a one half hour window before groups begin. I find this a wonderful time to pray, especially in front of the South Rose which comes to life in the morning. There is often a peaceful atmosphere around the outside of the choir during this early morning time. Morning is also the time to watch the light move across the windows on the south side of the cathedral.
Evening mass begins at 18h15, and Vespers follow at 19h00. While the cathedral is not silent at the end of the day, it is calmer. Praying in the chapels of the choir ambulatory in the early evening seems quite peaceful.
Special Places of Prayer in the Cathedral:
There is almost always someone praying in the Notre Dame de Pilier Chapel. It is the most “popular” prayer spot in the cathedral. There are benches to sit and kneel, as well as sheets with suggested prayers.
Special areas for prayer change from time to time, but there is always some chapel reserved for silent prayer. It is well-marked. The quiet there can be very supportive.
The Veil Chapel in the Choir Ambulatory: The cathedral was designed to welcome the pilgrims who would come to pray near the relic known as the Sancta Camisa, or the Veil of Mary. It is a piece of cloth that Mary is reported to have worn either at the annunciation or during birth of Jesus. There are benches outside the chapel grill where you can pray near the veil. Except for occasional tour groups coming to see the veil (they don’t stay long) this is generally a quiet place.
Statues in the Choir Ambulatory: Many find praying by the statues placed in this area meaningful. These include Jesus of the Sacred Heart, Theresa of Liseux (The Little Flower), and Joseph.
The Labyrinth that spans the nave is open on Fridays from 10h00-17h30 beginning in Lent through November 30th, with occasional closings for special events in the cathedral. If you are in the cathedral on Friday, take advantage of the opportunity to pray the labyrinth. There is information about the labyrinth in many languages near the entrance to the labyrinth.
The crypt is a lovely place to pray. Currently, it is only available for prayer during services (and for about 15 minutes before and 5 minutes afterwards). You can check the weekly postings for times of prayer in the crypt. These are found near the 3 doors of the upper sanctuary.
Inside the central door in the west is a beautiful stone that is larger than those surrounding it. I often like to stand there (or another big stone inside the North or South doorway) when I enter the cathedral. I use it as a place to let go of whatever might hinder me from approaching God.
Under the Typological Passion Window on the north ambulatory, near the crossing, is a large crucifix. There is an area reserved for prayer at its base.
Candles for use by those wanting a tangible sign of their prayers are available in many locations throughout the cathedral. A donation, used to help with cathedral costs, is requested. Due to fire risk, the candles are extinguished each evening and relit each morning.
If you find it easier to pray outside, the park behind the front (east end) of the church has benches where you can look back at the cathedral. It is possible at most times of the day to find both sunny or shaded spots to sit and pray.
There is a little ledge on the bottom of the central pillar of the south porch (under the Teaching Christ) where you can sit and pray.
Praying on one the porches, either standing or sitting on the stairs, is also wonderful. The sun is on the south porch in the morning, and on the north porch in the late afternoon.
The benches across the street from the west side of the cathedral allow for perspective and relative tranquility if you are seeking a good place to contemplate and pray with its beauty and imagery.
Taking a Prayer Walk: Walking the Cross as a way of orienting yourself in the Cathedral
Enter the cathedral from the west. Stand for a moment on the large stone not too far from the center of the west wall. Prepare yourself to spend time with God.
Walk slowly to the altar area (If it is open you can continue into the choir. You will have to walk around the central altar and go into the choir area on the south side). Offer a prayer of gratitude.
Walk down the north aisle to the door, touching it with a sense of wonder for the magnitude of this sacred space. Turn around and walk back to the middle of the central altar area. Kneel and offer a short prayer.
Arise and walk to the south wall down the south aisle to the door. Turn and look up to the north rose. Let its beauty in. Return the center of the altar area in the crossing.
As you face the altar and the East, kneel or stand in prayer.
Evening Prayer is sung Monday through Friday at 19h00. Locations and times for all services are noted inside each main door to the cathedral.
Other pages on this site about praying in the Chartres Cathedral