France: The Restoration of the Chartres Cathedral

Source: FSSPX News

Notre Dame de Chartres, the archetype of a Gothic cathedral, was built immediately after the fire that ravaged the 11th century Romanesque cathedral in 1194. It only took about 30 years (1194 to about 1230) to build the main structure, which is thus of an impressive unity and interior harmony.

The Chartres Cathedral, where Our Lady’s veil is preserved, draws visitors who come to admire its innovative architecture, the greatest ensemble of stained-glass windows of the 13th century, and its three sculpted portals. This immense building, built over 800 years ago and spared by the wars and the Revolution, has nonetheless lost some of its splendor. “For the first time in the history of restoration, it has been decided to reproduce the initial state of the monument,” and the association Les Amis de la cathédrale de Chartres (Friends of the Chartres Cathedral) are actively participating, along with the government. After concentrating on the upkeep tasks it takes care of, the association was able cover the financial charge of several restorations: the clock pavilion, several stained-glass windows of the ambulatory, and some of the sanctuary’s great bay windows – restorations that since 2010 have allowed the sanctuary to recover the luminous atmosphere it once had.

Indeed, the artisans of the Middle Ages had covered the entire edifice, built in grey stone, with a yellow-ochre coating, with false joints painted with lime. “In those days, cathedrals were covered in light colors in order to de-materialize them, to give them, as it were, a divine light,” explains the chief architect of Historical Monuments, Patrice Calvel. Thus the restoration of the sanctuary made it possible to uncover the initial coating that had been covered with emulsions in the 15th and 19th centuries.

The amplitude of the work that still needs to be done in order to restore the entire cathedral to its original appearance has decided the Friends of the Cathedral to continue restorations in 2014 with the sanctuary closure, the workers’ rose window, and the stained-glass window of Abraham.

Conceived by the canons to separate the sanctuary from the rest of the edifice, the closure isolated the clergy from the laymen. It is about 6 meters high and 100 meters long. A veritable wall of sculpted stone, this magnificent ensemble from the 16th and 17th centuries has four levels; the large alcoves offer about forty scenes illustrating the life of the Virgin and Christ under crowning dais in stone lace. The master builder, Jehan de Beauce, also directed the construction of the north bell tower.

Besides being extremely dirty, a fact made all the more visible by the recent restoration of the stained-glass windows in the sanctuary and ambulatory vault, the closure of the sanctuary is also missing sculpted elements, and has some cracks and erosions. The restoration will restore the stone to its former whiteness, consolidate the weakened elements and replace certain missing elements.

(sources: amiscathedrale/cathedralechartres – DICI#286, Dec. 6, 2013)