Reflections from Chartres

On June 8th, 2019, the Vigil of Pentecost, thousands of Catholics set out on foot from Paris, bound for the Cathedral of Chartres that they would reach two days later as part of the famous pilgrimage that bears the destination city’s name. Many of our priests, seminarians and parishioners were with them, and two young parishioners, one from St. Joan of Arc in Coeur d’Alene and one from North American Martyrs in Seattle, shared with us their memories of the journey.

by Zoe Brown, FSSP Coeur d’Alene

The destination: Chartres Cathedral

It began nearly a thousand years ago, this throng of pilgrims travelling to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Chartres in order to see the precious relic it houses, the Veil of Our Lady. As an organized event, however, the pilgrimage began in 1989 and has continued every year since.

It began for us at dawn outside the second largest church in Paris, the magnificent Saint-Sulpice. A crowd of 14,000 faithful Catholics from all over the world waited outside, flying the colorful banners of their separate chapters, all come together to begin this unbelievable journey that has become legend—the Chartres Pilgrimage, a 70-mile walk over 3 days around Pentecost, from Paris to Chartres. Thousands of pilgrims gather with one intent, to offer prayer and penance and to honor Our Lady.

Mass at Saint-Sulpice

A beautiful Solemn High Mass inside the church was the starting point of the journey—our chapter (St. Joan of Arc) was so fortunate as to be inside for Mass, whereas a huge crowd spilled out all around the church. Then, soon enough, we were unfurling our flags, and setting out on the first grueling march.

On the first day of the trip, we wound our way through the sophisticated streets of old city Paris, all cream stone and delicate iron filigree. We walked to the outskirts of the city and beyond, into the picturesque French countryside composed of tiny stone cottages and vast farm fields of waving grain. Laughing, singing, talking, in friendly fellowship and good faith, praying rosaries and saying the Stations of the Cross, we walked 28 miles before reaching camp. It was a long, hard day, painful but worth every moment.

The St. Joan of Arc chapter marches on

Exhausted and hurting, but ready for anything, we woke at 5:00 the next morning and enjoyed a cup of coffee before setting out once more, again winding through seemingly eternal fields bordered by woods. Often enough an endless line of vivid banners stretched to the edge of both horizons. Our thousands of pilgrims marched down the narrow, winding main street of tiny hamlets, the townspeople watching with delight. By the end of the day we were utterly worn out after walking some 26 miles, but we could see the tiny spires of Chartres in the distance, so close.

The pilgrims arrive at Chartres

With 15 more miles to go, we walked the next day with the end in sight. After a long climb up the town’s hill to reach the breathtaking cathedral at its crown, we were there. We had made it. The pilgrims crowded into the cathedral’s courtyard and beyond, a throng of relief and delight, and Solemn High Mass began.

Chartres is stunningly beautiful, restored in shades of white and cream, lit by gorgeous stained glass. Our chapter heard Mass in the crypt of the cathedral, and we had an entire day to explore.

Chartres 2019

We all will cherish our memories and experiences of the Chartres Pilgrimage—even the hard times, the times that hurt, but especially the infinite moments that made the trip beautiful. We are traditional Catholics in a modern world that tries to tell us that our Faith is dead, irrelevant, worthless. It’s wrong. There is no stronger sense of community and solidarity than in this vast crowd of Catholics, where the strength of faith is tangible and feels so alive, so vibrant, both ancient and new. This pilgrimage is a reminder once again of the life, beauty and eternity of Catholicism. +

The Chartres pilgrimage is something special. It is by no means easy. It challenged me in a way I had never been challenged before, but it has hands down been the most rewarding thing I have done in my life.
– Kerrie Lawson, FSSP Seattle


Photos by Zoe Brown


Additional photos by Kerrie Lawson

August 2, 2019