Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Tuesday: The Cathedral in Chartres
We were up and out the door very early Tuesday morning. Metro'd over to Gare Monparnasse, and hopped on the 7:45 train to Chartres. It was a nice hour and 10 minute ride through the pretty French countryside to Chartres.
Walking out of the train station in Chartres it's not hard to find the Cathedral--it is huge! It's visible from just about everywhere in the town, just look up!
We walked in the general direction of the church, stopping at a small cafe for a quick espresso and breakfast. We then meandered through "old town" and towards the Cathedral. Old town Chartres is very charming, with narrow winding streets, small passageways and beautiful old buildings. It reminded us very much of Brugges, Belgium.
Chartres also has several canals winding through town:
There are also some areas that are nicely landscaped, and I especially like the rows of trees:
Finally we came to the cathedral! It was a bit "under wraps" in parts, as it is undergoing a large restoration both inside and out.
We walked around the outside--it really is a stunning cathedral:
In this picture above you can really see the difference between the restored areas and those that are still covered with centuries of "age". On the outside, the restored areas look like they have been nicely cleaned of the centuries of grime, but not fundamentally changed.
Finally it was time to go inside to see those famous stained glass windows. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the dark. (Not a lot of sunshine today--despite the 70 and sunny forecast!)
Our first thought? Hmmmm..........we're not sure. It's dark, not as majestic as either Nortre Dame or St. Denis. We walked around a bit, then got our first good look at those windows------WOW! They are beautiful, and amazingly detailed. I think the level of workmanship on these windows far surpasses any other cathedral windows we've seen. They are very intricate, with many more pieces and lead soldering. The colors are vibrant and gorgeous. It was hard to get a good picture, because by then it was cloudy, but here are a few:
Here is a picture of one of the rose windows, and a detail of the very center:
There were large areas of the cathedral closed off due to restoration work. Although we were disappointed to not be able to see the entire interior, we were able to see a couple of areas where the restorations were complete. Here is one area, you can really see the difference:
Well, we looked and looked at this newly restored area. We thought it looked a little strange, just a bit perfect for a building that is over 800 years old. The rest of the cathedral is dark gray, very aged stone. We went to an area where we could examine the restored walls closely, and the walls are perfectly smooth--like they have been plastered over. They have been painted (with some sort of epoxy paint? kind of shiny), and then painted or stenciled to look like blocks! We thought surely we were wrong. We asked a woman at the tour desk, and she insisted that it was not painted! We know it is, and it makes us sad. For some strange reason, I'd rather see the cathedral crumble into dis-repair than to be glossed over like this. I fully expect that if I return in 5 years time, it will look like Cinderella's castle, and they may have even Pergo'd the floors! I'm sure far greater minds than mine designed the restoration work, but I think it's just sad.
So on that somewhat depressing note, we left the cathedral. It is a stunning architectural wonder, and I'm glad we saw it today.
By now we were hungry! We found a nice little cafe in a pretty old building and had a bowl of soup and a crepe for lunch. That warmed us up a bit!
We explored this charming town for a couple more hours, and in our wanderings we came across another church--not as old as the first one, but in state of crumbling decay. It was still beautiful, and it felt honest and right.
By now we had wandered for miles and thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this lovely little town. It was getting to be late afternoon, and time to catch a train back to Paris. Here's my sweetie, just a waitin' for that train.............
It was a great day in Chartres!