In Chartres, the Beauty of Mary’s Veil

October 16, 2020

On October 7, 2020, a new display case housing the relic of the veil of the Virgin Mary was inaugurated in Chartres Cathedral. In addition to enhancing the ornate reliquary, the uncluttered work by designer Hubert Le Gall provides versatile protection for the relic.

“I was inspired by this reliquary covered with jewels, stones, and cameos, but I did not want to struggle with the reliquary,” explains Hubert Le Gall, pointing with emotion to the golden reliquary which since the 19th century has housed the veil of the Virgin Mary, venerated since the 9th century in Chartres Cathedral.

In fact it was in 876 that Charles the Bald, on the evening of his reign, offered the cathedral the precious relic he had inherited from his grandfather Charlemagne.

Charlemagne himself had received it from Irene, the Empress of the East, who reminded the Frankish monarch that this was the silk veil worn by the Mother of God on the day of the Annunciation. 

During the Revolution, the reliquary was ripped open, and the silk cloth cut into several pieces. One of these was recovered: it is the one which is still the object of veneration by pilgrims from all over the world today.

Over the years, the display case housing the current reliquary - which dates from 1876 - was less and less airtight, it became necessary to replace it: this is where the designer Hubert Le Gall comes into play.

The Parisian artist designed a gilded window, adorned with stained glass windows bearing the famous blue of Chartres which, in the Middle Ages, had already secured the fame of the Chartres glassmakers.

But don’t think that Hubert Le Gall’s work consists only of an evocation of the past: it contains a technological device, hidden in a drawer under the window.

For in the heart of Chartres Cathedral lurks an enemy more stealthy than thieves, more patient than desecrators of all times: humidity. In addition, a device equipped with a polymer membrane was installed inside the display case, in order to ensure the most perfect climate regulation.

A technique that has the double advantage of not producing unsightly condensation for the eyes, and of being able to last about twenty years, without any special maintenance being necessary.

What is more, to facilitate the exposition of the relic during large ceremonies, a sliding tray has been installed, so that the reliquary can be easily removed.

Finally, it was also decided to limit the lighting of the relic so as not to damage the Virgin’s veil: “the lighting is on every day from 12:20 to 12:30 and from 7 to 7:15 p.m., i.e. during the time of the daily rosary and during the Angelus,” specifies Fr. Emmanuel Blondeau, rector of the cathedral.

A way to maintain the relic’s aspect of mystery which has been its own for 12 centuries.