Saturday, December 21, 2013


Those who know the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres but haven't visited it in a few years are in for a surprise. Not only are its 13th-century stained glass windows in the process of being restored (since 1998), but artisans have been steadily and painstakingly restoring and cleaning the cathedral's dark, sooty walls and arches since 2008. The cleaning project is programmed to finish in 2015. The difference, as you can see in these photos, is dramatic and changes considerably the effect of viewing the cathedral's 94 stained glass picture windows. And when I say picture windows, I mean it literally--for the baies vitraux each tell a Biblical story. Before the advent of the printing press, the masses were not able to read text; thus the stained glass images were designed to be read like cartoons.
If the precious stained glass windows survived two world wars, there's a reason. Because the thousands who flocked to the cathedral on pilgrimages through the centuries used to sleep inside on the floors of the edifice, the windows were installed on hinges so that they could be opened to freshen the air in the cathedral. (Likewise, the floors were designed with a slope so that the water sloshed on the floors to cleanse them would run off on an intended course.) That the windows were on hinges facilitated their removal during both WWI and WWII so that they could be hidden away for safekeeping.

For an interesting account of how the entire cathedral was saved from destruction during WWII, click here.

©2013 P.B. Lecron

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