Notre Dame de Chartres (Dennis Aubrey)

Last September we had the fortune to receive a commission to shoot the Cathedral of Chartres for the American Friends of Chartres. AMERICAN FRIENDS OF CHARTRES (AFC) is a non-profit organization created in 2005 to assist in the restoration and preservation of the cathedral of Nôtre-Dame de Chartres. A previous post detailed our meeting with Servane de Layre Mathéus, head of 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 of the French government to restore Chartres. They work closely with AFC to coordinate the conservation efforts at Chartres.

For three days we had complete access to the church, despite the tremendous amount of restoration work taking place. The shoot was scheduled for just a few days after we arrived in France and PJ was concerned that she was not ‘in form’. Added to that worry were the difficult conditions in the church because of the restoration and the crowds of people. At the end of the three days she was convinced that she had not done well. This post is intended to allay her fears. Here are five of her shots picked at random that do justice to the great Cathedral of Our Lady.

The first shot looks through the nave pillars across to the north transept windows in the distance. To the right, the walls are almost white. This is the apse, where both the stone and the windows have undergone the restoration process and as a result, gleams brightly compared to the unrestored stone surfaces of the rest of the structure. It will be three years more restoration work and the entire cathedral will glow like this. In order to understand the scope of this “nettoyage” that this cleaning work is done with instruments the size of toothbrushes and the windows are cleaned with Q-tips.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by PJ McKey

Part of the access we received was to the roof and the tribunes above the ground level of the church. This next shot is down into the nave from the north transept. PJ was standing on a narrow stone walkway with almost no protection in order to get these shots. There is no possible way that I could have gotten this photo because of my acrophobia, but she’s like a mountain goat.

View from tribunes, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by PJ McKey

Here’s another shot from above, this time across to the nave tribunes and the windows above. It is certainly a glorious view of the church.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by PJ McKey

This is a fine view of the nave from the south transept. I love the framing of the windows in the nave arches here.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by PJ McKey

Here is one of PJ’s shots through the ambulatory back into the distant nave. It gives a sense of the different views of the church that one discovers moving through the space. It is one of the many signs of the genius of these builders that such a complex space with many different vistas is still artistically uniform and hangs together as a whole.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by PJ McKey

The three days at Chartres were certainly memorable – we discovered from personal experience that there are no atheists on the copper roof of the cathedral during a thunderstorm; we were locked in the crypt for awhile which did not bother me but drove PJ crazy. But most of all, we were amazed by the glorious architecture and the windows of Chartres. We will definitely return in three years when the Cathedral if finished and shoot her from top to bottom. Can’t wait for that day.

Location: 48.447778° 1.487887°

14 thoughts on “Notre Dame de Chartres (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Thank you for visiting my blog. I enjoyed going through your photographs earlier, it was like taking a beautiful history lesson.


  2. Thank you for the wonderful work.

    My first visit to Chartres was in 1961 after reading Henry Adam’s
    “Mont- St.- Michel and Chartres” Houghton Mifflin1904

    Both are still standing after 1000 years and as your photographic records show Chatres is more beautiful than ever

    Roland Boucher

    1. Roland, Adam’s book is one of our inspirations, of course. I keep it on my bedstand in hard copy and we have it available on our IPad and Kindle as well. Always at hand. When the restoration is complete (in about three years), Notre Dame will be spectacular. We have seen hints of it in the apse and some of the windows. It will be almost as Louis IX saw it in 1260 at the consecration. BTW, I was fascinated by your pendulum posts.

      1. Thank you for your interest in my independent study of ancient metrology.
        The Recent discovery that these standards reached half the way around the world have given me even more incentive to press on. By the way I am a Yale graduate (55) but found Mont St Michel recommended in the Harvard Review. They were right – it is a treasure.

    1. Gilly, we shoot some of the most modest churches as well as the grand cathedrals, for example, in the Auvergne is a tiny village called Heume l’Eglise with a 12th Century church and a Vierge Romane. We love the town and have shot there three times. If you are interested, here is a list of churches that we have posted on; you’ll see that most of them are smaller Romanesque churches. Thanks for your comments.

  3. Wow I’m drooling. I’ve always dreamt of being a researcher or photographer, one of the fortunate few who get free reign of a cathedral like that. What a fantastic experience that must be. Thanks a lot.

    1. Corey, there are 5,000 Romanesque churches in France alone, and in so many you will have free rein when you go there to shoot. It is remarkable, and living in France, you have the unique opportunity to visit them. PJ and I will be buying a house in France soon so that we can spend more than six or seven weeks a year photographing.

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