Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral
Chartres Cathedral

I am back from Paris and Barcelona! There is so much that I could write about, including pedestrian observations — such as how every Parisian smokes cigarettes, like it’s the 1960’s.

Instead, I will write a few posts about specific places that I especially enjoyed. First is Chartres Cathedral, or The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, southwest of Paris. Chartres is easy to access by train, about 60 miles from the center of Paris.

All pictures are mine.

Chartres is a much-beloved and storied cathedral, with its present construction dating to the early 13th century, including most of the stained glass. It was a very popular pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages, and its popularity as a pilgrimage site is returning, at least according to one book that I read. The cathedral emerges over the rolling hills of golden wheat fields, with the beneficence of the Virgin Mother awaiting the faithful.

Madonna and Child chapel
Madonna and Child Chapel

Every church we visited has a side chapel dedicated to the Madonna and Child. The one at Chartres is especially lovely, and you can see (click the image to enlarge) some people praying. All of these cathedrals and basilicas are active churches. There is a wedding occurring in the central nave, as I am taking this picture.

Chartres Cathedral, woman carrying a candle
Along the North side aisle

And here is a woman carrying a candle as a votive offering. As you turn around, this is the view of the South rose window:

South Rose Window
South Rose Window

As you can see from this picture, the cathedral is undergoing an extensive interior renovation (or “restoration,” depending upon your point of view). The purported aim of the restoration, which began in 2009, is to restore the interior to its original appearance. The only possible way to do this is through plaster and paint. The white is the new; the brown is the old. Here is another picture that vividly displays the difference:

Rib vaults
Rib Vaults

That’s a significant difference. The deterioration of the interior has been rather severe, much more so than the other cathedrals we visited, such as Reims or Notre-Dame de Paris. But the renovation is rather severe too. It entirely erases the marks of time. As you could have guessed, this renovation has received some harsh criticism, such as from Martin Filler writing for NYR Daily. Filler makes some good and important points, but I will reserve judgment until the renovation/restoration is complete. It will certainly give an entirely new atmosphere to the cathedral, and perhaps it will serve to even better showcase the marvelous windows.

La Belle Verriere window
La Belle Verriere Window

This is one of the most renowned windows, La Belle Verriere, along the South aisle. The Virgin and Child are surrounded by angels in the adjacent panels. In the lower panels (bottom-up) are the temptations of Christ and then the wedding at Cana.

Nave and South Aisle
Nave and South Aisle

Here is another spectacular view, which also allows you to see the contrast between the renovated nave and unrenovated portions of the southern aisle.

Charles Péguy memorial
Charles Péguy memorial

Charles Péguy is an important literary figure who immortalized Chartres in his writings at the beginning of the 20th century. The plaque above says that Péguy walked here to entrust his children to the Virgin Mary and, following his example, students from France and abroad make pilgrimage here by the thousands.

That’s the end of my tour of Chartres Cathedral! As with any of these sites, the pictures only capture a small glimpse of its wonder and majesty.


Images: All of the photographs are mine. You are free to download for private use. If you want to republish, my permission is required.



    • Actually, no. In fact, everyone with whom we dealt — from the hotel clerks to the museum guides to the restaurant waiters — were very friendly and accommodating. My French is terrible, so I didn’t even try beyond the basics; but I had no problems in Paris. However, when you get outside of Paris (as in Reims and Chartres), then they are less adept at English. There was one woman in Reims who was possibly making snide remarks about Americans — because she didn’t speak English hardly at all — but she was the only one.

      • The people at my hotel were quite helpful (and served me apple pie for breakfast!) Just a couple of waiters who lived up to the stereotype.

        Which Paris museums did you visit? I went to the Orsay, Cluny, and of course the Louvre. Paris was the final stop after 2.5 weeks going around Wales and England, so I didn’t get to go anywhere else in France. I had six days in Paris, but was so tired from the UK that I had to spend a good portion in the hotel room. Still had a great time.

        And while I’m perpetuating national stereotypes, I found British waiters to be comically polite. I could order something as simple as a burger and beer and they’d say it was “smashing!” or “brilliant!” 🙂

      • We visited Cluny and the Louvre. We went to the Louvre twice, and I would have loved to be able to visit more often. The Rubens Gallery was my favorite. I have now vowed to learn about Peter Paul Rubens. The drama and emotion in his paintings is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

        Yes, “comically polite” is a great way to describe English waiters. As for France and Spain (likewise with Italy), it is hard getting used to waiters who basically ignore you the whole time. They consider it rude to interrupt, so you have to call them over for everything, especially to get the check. Of course, I prefer this to the recent phenomenon in America where every waiter interrupts you every five minutes to make sure everything is alright! It’s getting ridiculous.

        I’m glad that we started with Paris and then Barcelona. We would have been too exhausted to do Paris in the second week, because there is so much to do — way more than Barcelona. You could spend a month in Paris (and the surrounding region) and still only cover the basic, important stuff.

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