Some people are surprised to find these traditionally pagan symbols inside a Christian cathedral but, throughout Europe, there are literally hundreds of examples of zodiac imagery in places of worship.
On a recent visit to France, I looked forward to exploring the zodiac imagery in one of Europe’s most famous Gothic cathedrals, Notre Dame de Chartres (Our Lady of Chartres). Chartres is one of the oldest shrines in France dating back to pre-Christian times. Built on a hilltop over a sacred well and surrounded by forest, Chartres was a centre of Celtic worship hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Julius Caesar himself wrote about this hill and its dolmen (megalithic monument) where the Druids were initiated. The present-day cathedral was consecrated in 1260 and you can still visit the sacred well, deep inside the crypt.
Chartres Cathedral is a magical place. Built on the principles of sacred geometry by master stone masons funded by the Knights Templar, it was one of the chief stopping points on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain in mediaeval times. A living library of esoteric knowledge and symbolism, the cathedral is aligned to the northern hemisphere summer solstice. On 21st June each year, the sun shines through the window of ‘Saint Apollinaire’ with a depiction of the Roman sun god Apollo and its rays fall straight on an iron nail in the floor of the cathedral. The Cathedral School of Chartres produced some of the greatest neo-Platonic, esoteric and Gnostic scholars of the Middle Ages, teaching knowledge and wisdom rather than simply faith.
Inside the cathedral there is a beautiful astrological clock and a massive stained glass window showing the twelve signs of the zodiac and images of the agricultural labours and activities performed during each month of the year. The four fixed signs associated with the Galactic Cross (Leo, Taurus, Aquarius, Scorpio) are depicted in the central column of the window in four-leafed clovers, symbols of the cross (and also a Druid symbol of good fortune). However Taurus has for some reason been replaced by the sign Gemini, perhaps to represent the summer solstice.
Some people are surprised to find these traditionally pagan symbols inside a Christian cathedral but, throughout Europe, there are literally hundreds of examples of zodiac imagery in places of worship, one of the most famous being the zodiac calendar and sundial on the marble floor of the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri in Rome, a church originally designed by Michelangelo.
Stella is LivingNow’s astrology writer
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