Kim's excitement grew with every step. She was pumped that we were doing this! I love this photo of her checking route and distance. She kind of looks like Quasimodo, appropriate I guess since we were on our way to Cathedral Notre Dame de Chartres!
Soon enough actual views of the cathedral came into view. Then we had to cross a really busy street filled with the traffic sounds of an urban environment. The noise was actually a bit comforting at this point. I was pretty unsure of what exactly was going on with my emotions at this point. I was pretty darn thrilled to realize that I was going to complete this walk and the anticipation of reaching the Cathedral filled my heart with incredible joy and thanksgiving. I absolutely loved this sign of the pilgrim's path surrounded by the autumn leaves that were reminders of the time of year that we did this walk.
Because all cathedrals are on a hill, we had to climb a pretty good staircase in order to get up to the grounds where the cathedral majestically sits over Chartres. It was funny. It wasn't even hard to climb the stairs. It wasn't tiring, my legs didn't feel heavy. My feet didn't even hurt that much. It was amazing.
We had to walk through this beautiful, peaceful garden on our way to the entrance to the cathedral and it proved a perfect prelude for the main event. Once we reached the square where the cathedral sat, there was hugging and cheers and high fives and a few tears. A couple of folks in our group had never been to Chartres before so their excitement in standing outside of the cathedral was filled with the even greater anticipation of seeing something for the first time.
After gathering outside of the cathedral, around the sign of Saint Jacques and took another picture of our feet surrounding our destination point, much as we had done with our departure spot at Notre Dame in Paris. We bugged some innocent tourist, asking him to take our photo and then made our way into the church.
I had been to Chartres Cathedral on 4 previous occasions, twice that included great guided tours and an detailed explanation of the incredible stained glass windows, twice more just as a tourist passing through. Even so, I had forgotten how BIG this cathedral is. It just soars with its high flying gothic arches, and that gorgeous glass make the space so inviting. We quickly found our way the priest who would give us our final stamp in our Chemin credentials and realized that our pilgrimage was largely over.
In all of the times I had been to Chartres, I was completely unaware of this being a pilgrim site, of the statute of Saint Jacques, of the plaques indicating the Chemin. We had been told to pick up a stone somewhere along the way and lay it at the feet of Saint Jacques as a symbol of the way we join the throngs of other pilgrims who have done the same and as a small promise to go now, a changed person, ready to be a living stone in the world to which we will return. It was kind of a cool moment.
From there, we wandered just a few more steps over to our hotel and had some time to relax before we headed out for our celebration dinner. The sun was coming down over Chartres in a perfect sunset.
Showers were welcome! I was happy that I didn't have to wear my hiking shoes for a few more days! In fact, yesterday, was the first day that I had put them on since the walk ended. I unwrapped my feet to check the damage. Everything was mostly in tact!
Dinner that night was lovely. We went to a classic crêperie that stood in the shadow of the now beautifully lit looming cathedral. There was toasting and joking and warmth shared around the table of celebration. Candace, the oldest and most elegant of us all, gave out some gifts. She had done part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain and had picked up some things there that she had somehow saved to give out. Kim received some beautiful sterling silver shell earrings. Emily and I received these beautiful bracelets for providing spiritual guidance and the driver of our goods received a little car key chain with the shell on it. It was an incredibly thoughtful gesture and I will treasure this bracelet forever, in part because Candace was a wonderful gift on this trip.
We finished dinner and gathered for one final examen. At the end of this time, we were asked to bless the person sitting next to us, so we all received a blessing and gave a blessing. It was a sweet time together. Candace ended up being the one who blessed me and she could not have said more perfect things to me. What joy.
The pilgrimage was largely over. We had plans to gather in the morning to walk the labyrinth (more on this tomorrow) and share in communion together. After a week long trek that proved to be considerably demanding on the ol' bod, and the toasting around the table with both cider and wine, my head was aching and sleep was needed. We were in Chartres! I would get to take the train back to Paris! Admittedly, I was glad that it was over but super glad that I had done it. I also knew it would take awhile to sort through everything that I was feeling, experiencing, learning, etc. But one thing was for sure...I was grateful. Oh so grateful for so many wonderful things.
(PS: I have more to write so my pilgrimage blogs will continue...in case you feel like this story isn't finished yet! It isn't...)