A few winters ago, I was lucky enough to spend the end of December in Europe, and one of the most beautiful, sacred sites of my trip was the Chartres Cathedral in France, outside of Paris. I’d long been fascinated with this spot, since it turns up again and again in Grail lore and stories of the Magdalene heresy, but what I  didn’t know before making this pilgrimage was that the cathedral stands over a holy well, and before the current stone structure was built, the site was possible a Druidic grove or Celtic holy site.  Wherever the magic comes from that infuses Chartres, it’s tangible, and the visit lingers with me as one of profound peace and personal exploration.

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My husband and I took an impossibly early train from Paris to the small town of Chartres, arriving before even the bakery on the corner was open. In the misty December morning, we wandered through the town, drawn by the easy to spot mismatched cathedral spires reaching into the sky above the rest of the buildings. We’d been drawn to Chartres for a variety of reasons, but I was most looking forward to the sight of the ancient rose petal labyrinth laid into the church floor. Sadly, however, my attempts at using the Internet to translate the church website had left me unawares that the labyrinth wouldn’t be available to be walked in the winter; instead, it was covered with chairs waiting for the holiday service. Still, my first glimpses of the interior of the church were breathtaking.

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Known for the beautiful blue glass windows that line the sanctuary, the fact that this cathedral is a place of the divine feminine was apparent with each step we took. Mary and her child, still bedecked in beautiful Christmas robes, gazed down at the hushed tourists, while candles flickered in a huge offering to the Mother who is also a Maiden.

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The building felt old, older even than some of the much more ancient places I’d visited, and when we toured the crypt beneath the church, some of that old, strong power was explained. Buried beneath the church is the holy well, which, if my husband’s high school French is any indication, was the site of the tragic sacrifice of a daughter, either or the early church or the Pagan peoples who held the space sacred before the spread of Christianity; the legend got a bit garbled in translation, but suffice it to say that the well isn’t the only ancient source of power in the bowels of the church.

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The icon that allows Chartres to exist as a cathedral rather than merely another church is housed deep in the crypt, behind a gold filigree screen. It’s a piece of cloth believed to be from the veil of the Virgin Mary, a gift from the Empress Irene to Charlemagne, and, according to the guide, recent study has revealed that the age and origin of the fabric indicates it did emerge from the right time and place to have covered the head of a woman in the first century, C.E.  Wherever it came from, there’s tangible power in this ancient relic, and as I’d felt the entire time while touring the cathedral, when I stood before the veil, I noticed the quiet, warm sense of calm security oozing into every fiber of my being. The energy I felt at Chartres was encompassing and vast, and whether it is Mary who is in residence, or another Lady, I feel certain that this place is a deep well of feminine power.

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I didn’t want to leave Chartres when the time came, and I deeply hope that someday I’ll have the chance to return...perhaps in the spring, when I can then walk along the ancient labyrinth.