PJ and the Ambulatory – Chartres 2012 (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ and I were lucky enough to shoot for two days again at the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres this October. We were there for a meeting with the American Friends of Chartres, the organization that has been funding the restoration of some of the stained glass windows at the Cathedral. I’ve already posted shots from the restored choir and today’s post is to show some of PJ’s work in the ambulatory.

South ambulatory and rood screen, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by PJ McKey

PJ has a thing for ambulatories – the great procession way around the choir where the pilgrims would walk to see and pray at the relics without disturbing either the church or monastic offices. She loves to shoot through the different elements and pick up the curved surfaces and the complex vaultings. It has gotten to the point that I seldom spend much time in the ambulatories because I know that she will do such a remarkable job.

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

In the case of Chartres, the south side of the ambulatory has recently been restored and the north side is undergoing restoration as we speak. The difference between restored and unrestored is absolutely clear in this next photograph where we see the ambulatory through the south transept.

Unrestored transept to ambulatory, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by PJ McKey

Notre Dame de Chartres has remained in a spectacular state of preservation for eight hundred years. It has kept many of its windows, almost all of its sculpture, and its architectural integrity remains intact. These shots demonstrate the immaculate job being done to restore the Cathedral and we are able to see Notre Dame as it has not been viewed for centuries. When completed in two years, its reputation as perhaps the most perfect Gothic cathedral will be secured.

South ambulatory entrance, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by PJ McKey

There is still a post to come on PJ’s shots when she climbed up into the “parties hautes” of the cathedral, the ancient byways built into the walls that lead to the upper levels of the church. But she must write that post in the first person because it is simply impossible to describe what you have not seen from up there. As a preview, I’ll show one shot, this taken from inside the organ high above the nave. Breathtaking.

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

✚ Once again, 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°

19 responses to “PJ and the Ambulatory – Chartres 2012 (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. These are beautiful. I especially love the South ambulatory entrance and the one featuring the rood screen. I can just imagine all the feet that have passed that way. Do they ask you to wear felt slippers here?

    • No felt slippers, Loretta. But so many feet have passed here, you are right. It is still quite crowded, and even when PJ was shooting, she had to wait for the spaces to clear. It was easier for me because the choir is closed to the public.

  2. Stunning and gorgeous work. I’m looking forward to the next post. It’s always a huge bonus when one can get access to a higher vantage point, especially to gain a nice, straight on view of the two stories or levels. Wishing I could be there, but will enjoy the trip through your eyes.

    • Lisa, PJ not only got to the upper levels, which are available to anyone, but she went inside the walls and came out in areas where nobody gets access. At one point she was directly above the choir. She had to go outside and skirt the roof on narrow ledges to get there. Inside the walls she saw masons’ marks and the warren of passages for the builders. I wish so much that I could have gone, but my knees won’t allow for the strenuous climbing.

      • Wow, that is truly fantastic. What a great story. I am very excited to hear more about this. I could have never skirted the roof, too afraid of heights. I bet she got some incredible stuff. So glad you two are documenting this!

  3. Even being there on the same days as you and PJ, one’s impressions are not the same. As a medievalist and a “Friend of Chartres”, I am brought to a greater understanding of the concepts behind the forms, relationships of parts to whole, and perspectives on light, from the vision you and PJ bring. The depth and breadth of your experience is rich layer of understanding which enhances the photographs. These are inspired images which take decades of silent work on a multitude of sanctuaries to achieve. What you bring to your thousands of viewers is extraordinary!

  4. What a treat to see the restored ambulatory of Chartres photographed by PJ! I have noted PJ’s special affinity for “oblique” views for other churches in previous posts, but the Chartres shots are specially rewarding. Thank you for posting them. Jong-Soung

    • Jong-Soung, the restoration is done with the greatest attention to detail. As for PJ’s photography, your “oblique” reference is exact. She is very much influenced by modern artistic idioms, and it shows. Thanks for your comments, and I look forward to the day we actually meet.

  5. Ah, wonderful…just in time to update my power point on gothic before I lecture on this in a couple of weeks. The last several times I’ve been to Chartres there were parts of the ambulatory with scaffolding and screens covering it. I could only get shots of individual cleaned chapels. These grand views communicate the effect so much better! Merci. I must admit I am still grappling with the new/old cleaned Chartres–the windows no longer hang mysteriously in the darkness. I know it is an illusion of time and grime and 19th-century neo-gothic fantasy, but it was a sublime experience in my early visits.

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