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Panel 04 - People pulling a waggon loaded with sacks (Cult of Carts I)
Description:
The so-called 'cult of carts' (in which lay folk from all walks of life spontaneously joined together to help with an ecclessiastical building project, even harnessing themselves to carts like pack animals to help transport building materials) is a type of incident that features in the foundation myths of so many cathedrals and abbeys in medieval Europe that one might be forgiven for thinking it to be little more than a historiographic topos. In some cases these reports were almost certainly fictitious (many do not appear in the written records until a century or more after the supposed event and even then are copied almost verbatim from incidents reported at other churches). Some may have been carefully staged affairs, while others may have been genuine outbursts of popular piety. Either way, at the purely functional level such legends were an effective way of asserting to later generations of laymen that their local church (whose authorities were, in so many cases, on rather prickly terms with their flock) had been built by their own ancestors in an effusion of piety - and should therefore be respected. The authorities at Chartres claimed several such incidents in the history of the Cathedral's successive rebuildings - scholarly debate as to which is depicted here is pure speculation.

Of course it is also possible that what is represented here and in panel 06 is not a construction narrative at all but simply a festival in which tradesmen bring their produce as offerings to the Virgin (or even to sell at one of the lucrative fairs held on her feast days). There are plenty of religious festivals around the world, even today, when men take the place of draught animals. Our desire as art historians to see this as an image of the miraculous construction of Chartres Cathedral does not make it so - and there's no escaping the fact that the objects carried on these carts look more like trade produce than building materials.