PJ and I usually have a routine when we enter a church. We enter by the west, sometimes by the south, and rarely (Notre Dame de Senlis comes to mind) we enter by the north side of the building. We go to the rear of the church, sit down together, and look at and talk about the church. Sometimes this takes just a minute, sometimes more. One time at Conques we sat for half an hour admiring the genius of the builders and rediscovering the beauty of the Stützenwechsel – the rhythmic alternation of square pillars and round columns. But last week in Chartres, we had a different experience.
We came in by the spectacular south portal and went directly to the front of the nave to look at the restored and cleaned apse. The difference between the dark, unrestored nave and the brightness of the choir was astonishing. We immediately unpacked and began shooting, with PJ mumbling something about going to the ambulatory while I headed directly to the altar and choir. We shot about 1200 shots of Notre Dame de Chartres in two days and if we didn’t need to fly back to the US on Saturday, we’d still be there firing away.
We are not normally big fans of baroque altars in Gothic and Romanesque spaces, but the work is so magnificent and restrained here in Chartres that it is nitpicking to complain.
The next shot gives an indication of the progress of the restoration. In the foreground, the choir and crossing are almost complete. Most of the ambulatory is finished, although the north section is being worked now. The nave and transepts have not been done, but in the distance, it is possible to see the completed west wall with its lovely rose window. One interesting observation that occurred to me while shooting in the choir was how small the nave actually seems now. It may be that the darkness of the eight nave bays creates this illusion.
If ever there existed a cathedral better served by the Canon EF TS-E 17mm f/4L tilt-shift lens, I have not found it. The following two shots are an excellent illustration for any “right lens for the job” discussion. The first is a perfectly fine shot of the choir vault taken with the Canon 24mm f3.5 TSE LII tilt-shift lens. It was the ideal choice to frame the apse windows from the choir floor.
But the same view captured with the Canon EF TS-E 17mm f/4L tilt-shift lens is astonishing. By framing the entire triforium level, we begin to sense the soaring height of the choir. PJ prefers it because you also get a better sense of the vaulting and its relationship to the church as a whole.
In this shot it is possible to see the restored ambulatory on the south side. PJ’s post on this will feature two shots – one from last year and another from this year – that show the striking differences in the space since the cleaning and restoration.
When the entire cathedral has been restored, it will look as beautiful as it did at its dedication on October 24, 1260 in the presence of King Louis IX and his family. PJ and I will be there to photograph Notre Dame de Chartres next year at the final intermediate step of restoration and then again in 2014 when the finished church is revealed to the world.
✚ We would like to thank Caroline Berthod Bonnet, the Chargée de mission from the organization Chartres, Sanctuaire du Monde and Gilles Fresson, Professor of History and the secular coordinator at the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres. Their kindess and assistance made it possible for us to take these photographs. The American Friends of Chartres is our sponsoring organization and I am very pleased to be on the AFC Board of Advisors and to take part in some small way with the remarkable work that they are doing. And finally, we would like to dedicate our work at Chartres to Madame Servane de Layre-Mathéus, President of Chartres, Sanctuaire du Monde. She is an inspiration to us all. ✚
Location: 48.447778° 1.487887°