Divine Constructions: A Comparison of the Great Mosque of Cordoba and Notre-Dame-du-Chartres
By Rachel King
Honor’s Thesis, Boston College, 2007
Introduction: Rising above the French countryside, with high towers ascending into the sky and graceful buttresses soaring over the ground, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame-du-Chartres cuts a magnificent profile against the French horizon. It is unmistakable, commanding the eye for miles, sitting on the hill like a queen upon a throne. An elegant symphony of glass and stone, the cathedral bridges earth and sky, both literally and symbolically. A miracle of engineering, the cathedral is a testament to human creativity and divine majesty.
One thousand miles to the south, the white streets of Cordoba twist and turn until, as if by accident, they stumble upon a magnificent sand colored building hidden behind a grove of trees. The mosque does not rise vertically but stretches horizontally, low to the ground, except for the tall minaret that casts its shadow over the courtyard. Seemingly infinite numbers of arches, buttresses, domes, and columns weave complex rhythms within the façade. It is a sight both exotic and familiar, straddling east and west, Europe and Africa.
However different the two buildings may be the impulse to create them was the same. The glittering stained glass windows of Chartres share something with the elegant Kufic inscriptions in Cordoba. Beneath the cathedral’s delicate stone tracery and the mosque’s floral decorations in stucco there is a common bond. Though separated by time and space, both buildings are examples of European sacred architecture in the medieval period. Both artistic styles trace their development back to Rome, both religions back to Abraham. Both constructions were built not only to satisfy a religious function, but a social and political one as well. Most interestingly both buildings are human attempts to describe the divine and its relationship with humanity through the three dimensional forms of architecture. How those attempts played out illuminates much about each religion’s ideas about God, man, and paradise.