The Stained Glass of Chartres (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ and I have documented in other articles how the Cathedral Notre Dame de Chartres is being restored to its former glory. We have worked with the American Friends of Chartres and Chartres, Sanctuaire du Monde for several years now documenting this restoration.

The restoration of the stained glass at the cathedral is one of the great accomplishments of this project. Long considered the finest ensemble of medieval glass, we are just now beginning to see the windows in their original condition again. The years have not been kind and the accumulation of inside dust and outside pollution had made the windows almost opaque. The famous “Chartres blue” (a luminous blue glass made from a sodic flux and colored with cobalt, it has survived the centuries almost unchanged) was a thing of legend. The interior of Notre Dame was almost dark.

The program of restoration began in 1983 and has made enormous progress through those years. American Friends of Chartres has contributed by funding the restoration of the five south transept lancets. The windows, executed around 1221, were commissioned by Pierre Mauclerc, first of the Dukes of Brittany through marriage to Alix de Thouars. They are shown with their children in the base of the lancets.

The south transept lancets, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The south transept lancets, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The theme of the five lancets is that the Old Testament prophets formed the foundation for the writings of the New Testament evangelists. This is illustrated by depicting the evangelists sitting on the shoulders of the much larger Old Testament prophets.

South transept lancet windows, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

South transept lancet windows, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The central lancet shows Mary crowned as Queen of Heaven with a scepter in her right hand and the infant Jesus seated on her left arm.

South transept lancet - Virgin and child,  Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

South transept lancet – Virgin and child, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Among the restored windows is the magnificent Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere, perhaps the most beautiful of all the windows and the symbol of the cathedral itself. We feel privileged to see her in pristine condition like this.

Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Among the details of the Belle Verriere window are the four angels bearing columns supporting the ‘Throne of Wisdom’ and Angel wielding a censer.

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

American Friends of Chartres has already begun fund-raising for its next project, the restoration of the windows of Bay 140. This is the second bay from the west on the south side of the nave clerestory and features the Alpha and Omega Rose Window and the lancets of Saint Peter and Saint James the Major.

The techniques and processes used by the French to restore these windows are worth a study in themselves and will constitute a later article. If you are interested in exploring the full panoply of the Chartres windows, you should go to this link for the work of Dr. Stuart Whatling at Medievalart.org. The listing only has the windows that have been restored but the photography is excellent.

Location: 48.447778° 1.487887°

11 responses to “The Stained Glass of Chartres (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. I just looked at the windows of Bay 140 and then back at the restored windows. The difference is surprising. Thanks for telling us about this.

  2. I last saw Chartres before the work commenced…as you say, it was dark and the glass could not be seen in all its glory, nor the interior benefit from it.

    Thank you for the link…most helpful.

  3. I couldn’t get to Bay 140, but I thank you for the link to the enabled windows. When Ed and I visited in 1991 it was a work in progress but what a thrill to stand in that glorious building, having read for so many years of its amazing history.

    • Kalli, Bay 140 has not yet been restored and the link only goes to the restored windows. There is some very interesting news associated with the Bay 140 restoration that I hope to be able to share soon.

      As far as the progress that has been made since your visit in 1991, the post where we discuss the process of restoration will give you an idea of why it takes so long. When you were in Chartres, did you take Malcolm Miller’s tour of the windows? In those days it was like a private session in a near-empty church.

  4. Dennis, in addition to illuminating the wonders of the stained glass windows of Chartres for all of us, you have contrasted the different sensibilities of the glass painters at work for the same cathedral: I am struck by the remarkably different rendition of the face of the Virgin in the “Virgin and Child,” and that of the Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere. The Virgin looks unmistakably Caucasian; the Notre Dame on the other hand looks Indo-European or even Asian. Jong-Soung

    • Jong-Soung, you are so correct in this observation. (Personally, I am very happy that we are able to use the 400mm lens to get closeups of these windows with such clarity so that we can see every detail). The faces of the two vierges are completely different – I had always seen Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere as almost Byzantine, something from the walls of the churches in Constantinople when the Crusaders appeared.

    • I second your observations, Jong-Soung–there are clear differences between the two vierges. No doubt the worksite had masters from all over the western world toiling away! On a related note, I would like to shamelessly plug a piece I wrote a while back on the cathedral at Leon, partially modeled after the pioneering nave elevation of Chartres and also featuring two distinct sculptural styles, no doubt at the hands of separate masters. http://lifeisacamino.com/2013/10/14/the-nameless-but-brilliant-master-sculptor-of-leon/

  5. Something has astounded me. I showed this post with its photographs to the indian lady who cleans my house.
    The windows left her unmoved, untouched.
    She just remarked that windws like these woud be likely to suffer damage in San Jose.
    Not having a shared heritage I can understand…but not havinhg a response to beauty is something else…and interesting.

    • Helen, we have seen so many people come into the actual churches, take a quick look around and go back to their “real” lives. I have also seen a young man come into the Basilique Sainte Madeleine in Vézelay with a large group of his classmates, probably college-aged. He wandered around the fringes of his group glancing casually at some of the capitals while his companions looked at them carefully and discussed them. He made quite a show of being bored, but he had on a headset and I thought that perhaps he was listening to one of the recorded guides. At one point, a classmate said something to him. He pulled off his headsets to hear and the church was filled with the tinny sound of rap music. He replied to his friend and put the headsets back on and resumed his pose of ennui.

      Who can say what moves one human being and leaves another so completely untouched?

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