This has already been an extraordinary trip, during which we have seen extraordinary things and met extraordinary people. This post is about one of those people, who we met through the very kind auspices of the American Friends of Chartres. The Consul Generale of France in Boston, M. Christophe Gilhou, introduced us to the AFC and in particular, Damien Balsan. AFC works with Chartres, Sanctuaire du Monde, a private French organization, which for 14 years has worked in close cooperation with the Historic Monuments Commission and supports the public efforts of the French government to restore this glorious cathedral.
As one gets closer to the center of anything, one gets closer to the source. As we became more involved with the efforts to restore the cathedral, we inevitably came to the heartbeat – the extraordinary Servane de Layre Mathéus. Our first view of Madame de Layre was probably to be expected. We were to meet her for lunch in Chartres and I was lost in the warren of streets in the center of town. Despite GPS, I could not find the address. I called her to say that I was in front of the Credit Agricole and next to a statue. She knew where it was and within minutes she came into sight. It was easier for her to find me than to explain how to get to her.
During the short lunch, we had a signed contract for our work, were introduced to Gilles Fresson from the rectory who arranged our access throughout the cathedral, and were off on our adventure. The next day, however, we had lunch at her apartment in Chartres, next door to the gothic church Saint Aignan. Here we watched her live a life full of energy and devotion to her causes, from local politics to the restoration of the great Cathedral. Here we saw what drives the woman; the love of art, history, the Middle Ages, and France. For fifteen years she has worked to restore Chartres and the restoration is proceeding wonderfully. The windows are brilliant and sparkling as they have not done for centuries. The stones are cleansed and shine brightly in the renewed light. When it is finished in 2014 or 2015, the Cathedral of Chartres will be as much of a wonder as when it was built nine centuries before. This restoration is the result of the efforts of so many people, but much of it from the efforts of this small, energetic woman who moves things from one place to the other in an effort to clear a path for action. We too were moved and placed like chess pieces, and in doing so touched by her in a completely unexpected manner.
At one point I told her that what she has done is extraordinary, a gift to the entire world. Without agreeing, a light came in her eyes as she looked directly at me, and in doing so, looked directly into my heart. She held my gaze, firmly. From that look, came her answer, an answer that contained a world of possibilities. The possibility of meaning, the possibility of perfection, and the possibility of salvation.