Skip to comments.Chartres Cathedral: Sooty-Dark or Sparkling White, Itís Still Saving Souls
Posted on 10/24/2015 2:00:54 PM PDT by NYer
If you have not been following the art and architecture comentariat of lateand after all, thats what you read me forthen you may be unaware of a tempest brewing around the restoration of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres, France. Universally considered to be one of the greatest works of architecture on the planet, the Medieval architecture of Chartres and its magnificent stained-glass windows have inspired writers, artists and composers, as well as many imitators. Beginning in 2008 the French government began to restore the building and in the process has removed much of the soot, dust and grime accumulated over the centuries.
In doing so, experts working on the project claim that they are bringing back the building to something like its original appearance, based on the discoveries they are making as they go. Non! shout other experts, however, decrying the work at Chartres as a scientific and architectural disaster. Their complaint is that new Chartres is too clean, too white, and too speculative in appearance, and that the building is being ruined through irresponsible intervention. This fight has raged in the art press for years now, and shows no sign of abating.
Why should a single building, even a church, cause so much consternation among so many people? The answer comes from the particular importance of Chartres itself, which embodies fundamental changes in human experience which today might seem so commonplace as to be easily overlooked. For at the risk of oversimplification, which is inevitable in a brief article such as this, Chartres represents a turning point both in science and in the Western understanding of mans relationship with the Divine.
On a scientific level Chartres is a major piece of technology. Today, when most of us live or work in buildings whose walls are composed either entirely of glass or feature significant expanses of that material, it is easy for us to forget that this was once a practical impossibility. Previously, a buildings walls were used primarily for the purpose of protection from the elements, animals or other humans. The thicker and more impenetrable the wall the better.
Advances in the study and understanding of engineering, physics and chemistry, among other areas, made it possible for the builders of Chartres to alter the way that humans design and use a permanent structure. Instead of being a closed space designed to keep nature out, Chartres employs nature to achieve a greater purpose. In effect, the walls of Cathedral become a means to a double end.
At Chartres, the basic, utilitarian purpose of the structureprotectionis achieved, but at the same time this purpose is turned to a theological end: faith. The walls of the Cathedral still keep out the sun and the rain, the birds and the bugs, the Moors and the Huns in order to provide a safe place for human beings to gather and worship. However, in achieving this result through the use of copious amounts of colored glass set in comparatively thin walls, the builders of Chartres were able to achieve their purpose of persuading the visitor to fundamentally reexamine his own life. That is no small feat for a structure built 8 centuries ago, without the use of computers or modern machinery.
This purpose is highly important to keep in mind because whatever its scientific glories, Chartres was and still is, first and foremost, a house of Christian worship. While it was not the first Gothic building in the world, let alone in France, it is without question one of the finest. As a major touchstone for the Gothic style, it represents on a theological level a significant shift in mans attitude toward the divine.
Recall that previously, houses of worship were often rather gloomy places, even if impressively sized on the outside and elaborately decorated on the inside. Structures like the Ancient Egyptian temples at Karnak, the Holy of Holies at the Temple in Jerusalem and the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople were designed to evoke the divine as someone all-powerful, mysterious and ultimately unknowable, but to a chosen few. Even on those rare occasions when light finds its way into such structures, as in the Pantheon in Rome, it was usually somewhat limited in its penetration.
With the arrival of Gothic architecture, most notably at Chartres, God is still God, but man is no longer incapable of perceiving him. This is a house of worship in which the visitor is meant to feel joy, both for being a part of Gods creation, collectively, and for being someone who God loves, individually, warts and all. Without denying divine power, let alone judgment and ultimate punishment for sinindeed, openly warning of it in its decorationChartres and the many churches that subsequently copied it encourage those who pass within its walls to live in hope rather than despair.
No matter where you go inside a church like Chartres, light touches you. You are surrounded by and enveloped in it as you move in and out of the structural elements which comprise the building. While the effect of being in such a space is still overwhelming, making you realize just how small you are in the scheme of things, at the same time you are drawn to and embraced by the majestic beauty around you. Realizing that you are not forgotten by a distant God, tucked away somewhere in the dark, but rather known and cared for by him regardless of your station in life is what sets Christianity apart. The same, jewel-toned light of heaven that illuminates the priest or the king falls equally upon the layman and the peasant.
Criticism of the ongoing program of restoration at Chartres will no doubt continue for years, as it has for other significant restoration projects whose results have been controversialmost notably that of the Sistine Chapel some years ago. The debate as to whether Chartres should be dirty and dingy, white and sparkly or something in between will occupy the art and architecture comentariat for years to come. Yet regardless, the fact that people are once again looking at and talking about the importance of this monument to the Christian faith is ultimately a good thing. Merely talking about this church may not fill up its pews, but as part of a rediscovery the rich treasury of Catholic culture and its influence on the world we inhabit today, it certainly cannot hurt.
How long before the Mohammedan “immigrants” blow it up?
Alas, 7 years in Germany and I never made it to Chartres.
How can cleaning up and restoring such a beautiful and magnificent building cause such a fuss....?
Cleanliness is next to Godliness is the saying....
Clean it up and restore it before the it’s turned into a stable by the invading Muslim hordes...
I was an Atheist when I visited the Chartres Cathedral in July 1993 and became a Christian less than two years later. I was really impressed with the Cathedral, it was the first time I actually felt reverence for anything other than my own pursuit of pleasure. That little spark kept growing until I was finally engulfed.
Would be interesting to see the original architectural drawings. I wonder if they exist?
The rehabilitation shall finish just in time to turn it into a mosque....
Of course, a lot of the restoration shall have to be reversed, to allow for upgrades. Consider the fate of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (or is it Instanbul?) Great museum, I hear.
See what the Islamic religion did for the Temple of the Mount in Jerusalem.
What a wonderful story.Thank you!
I would love to hear more....
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness is the saying....’
That is a Protestant saying.
——Cleanliness is next to Godliness is the saying....——
——That is a Protestant saying.——
So Catholics prefer to be dirty...?
Got to admit that your remark is just about dumbest comment ever posted...
What an amazing testimony!! I visited the cathedral in 1985. Still recall seeing the steeples rising in the distance as we drove along the A11 highway. Amazing!
Check out Rick Steve's video posted above in comment #4. He explains how the unique architectural design allowed for larger stained glass windows which were used to instruct people in the faith. I also posted a key to the windows in post #1.
With Israel now arming up in response to the knife incidents, could there be a major “house cleaning” in the making?
Some attribute the remark to John Wesley, so I think that's why Fai Mao said it was a Protestant saying.
However, some attribute it instead to a proverb used by second century rabbi Phinehas ben Yair, so I think the origin is up in the air.
‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ is a pseudo-scriptural reference used by parents to get their children to take bathes. I don’t think there is any Protestantism or Catholicism about it.
Chartres Cathedral - Wikipedia
H’mmm 2nd Century Jewish proverb? Why not. See also my post # 17.
I doubt if the plans still exist. No doubt there were initial plans of some type, but with medieval churches being built over a couple of hundred years, if on a ‘rush’ schedule, there were probably many changes and lost copies.
And I’m sure Fr. Esser made a comment about that during our Art History mandatory classes or in the medieval history class from Fr. Gerlach, but that was nearly 50 years ago and my memory banks are failing.
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