Chartres Cathedral Cathedral space is perfectly suited for chanting because the voice too has immense space, great depths and soaring heights. The voice can be a nave waiting to be filled with praise, a passageway for the Divine. The voice can be a reflector of silent interiors, a deep well of knowing, an altar to receive communion. Sound travels up through the body. The voice is the place where spirit and matter merge, where heaven is brought to earth.
Sometimes we need to be witnessed by others for these mysteries to unfold. On my second day at Chartres I toured the crypt with six others. I asked the guide if I could sing, still reverberating with my experience singing the night before. "Oui, Madame." After I sang a brief song, a Belgium couple came up to me. The man said, "It was you Madame! It was you we heard sing in the cathedral last night. Do you know that your voice filled the entire cathedral? We went all around looking for you." He said his name was Franz and introduced me to his wife Beatrice. Since he spoke fluent French I asked if he would mind asking the guide if I could return to the crypt to sing for a longer time. "Yes, will you allow us to accompany you?" I was moved to have companions with me on my song quest.
The three of us returned later that afternoon and had an hour alone together in the crypt. Wordlessly I went to the altar of Our Lady Under the Earth. Franz and Beatrice sat on different sides of the aisle. We were silent, each in our own state of prayer. I closed my eyes breathing in the narrow chapel and heard centuries of pilgrim voices still lingering in the air. I heard the sound of my heart, a song of the moment emerged, first with deep blue "Ouuu's" that changed into rosy "Ahhh's." The "Ah" became Ave Maria. I felt I had sung here before with these two people. I was drawn to walk down the aisle singing. From the back of the crypt I heard the overtones of my Alleluia resonate off the far wall where the Black Madonna sat. I imagined what it would be like if the room were filled with other singers. Suddenly the lights went out and just as suddenly tiny rose colored lights illuminated the aisle. A group of about twenty singers entered the crypt singing Alleluia. They formed a circle around the altar and sang. I moved slowly towards them. Franz joined me and we walked down the aisle together. The group opened to include us and we all sang as one, becoming the rose singing together in praise of the mystery.
After several songs in Latin we processed slowly up and down the aisle singing Alleluia, singing this pilgrim's path. Some sang with their hands over their hearts, others with their hands extended out. Some walked with their eyes closed. Mine were open in ecstasy. Then, without a word or cue, following some other voice, they left singing. We heard their voices linger in another part of the crypt. Then it was quiet.
Beatrice was crying. She looked at me with tears streaming down her face. I sat in front of the Black Madonna and now it was my turn to cry. I felt so small compared with all this glory and beauty. I couldn't comprehend any of it. I heard the Black Madonna speak to my heart, "Yes, you are small, tinier than you can even imagine. Do you know how vast the universe is? You can't begin to understand the powers that move through me. Do you know how big you are? How much you are needed? Do you know how important it is that you sing?" I sat with her words, humble and grateful, moved to trembling.
As we were leaving Beatrice paused for a moment and then went to the altar. She stood silently and then sang a song in Dutch, her voice shook with emotion and praise. We emerged from the crypt, hugged and then parted. Later that day in the cathedral I met the three English ladies who had been with us on the crypt tour. When they asked me about my day I told them the experience I had in the crypt with Franz and Beatrice. While we were talking they appeared. I introduced them to each other and asked Beatrice about the song she had sung. She told me she was scared, that she had never sung alone, but knew it was something she must do. As she translated the song into English the three ladies beamed, "we know that song! It's written by Rudolf Steiner. We must all sing it together in the center of the labyrinth." Franz said "Yes! The cathedral and the human cathedral must meet through the voice!" Together we walked into the petals of the labyrinth, six of us, from Belgium, England and America, one for each petal.
In Search of the Holy Grail Do we wander from land to land...
I left Chartres, that great Lady of Roses, on a bus to southern France. As I climbed aboard I saw an African woman dressed in a long blue satin gown with a blue satin turban on her head. At her breast was a nursing child. The Black Madonna has traveled with me ever since.