And we begin in Chartres (Dennis Aubrey)

Regular readers of Via Lucis know that we are planning our Spring/Summer trip to France and that we have posted about the upcoming section of the Pyrénées. That is the middle of the trip and today’s post is about the beginning.

2015_11_14_0a_cdg-646c0In April we fly into Paris via Reykjavík, Iceland. We do this for two reasons. First we do it because PJ hates to fly and we can break up the transatlantic section of the flight. Second, and most important, we go through the European Union customs in Iceland instead of Paris, and that is worth a great deal right there. Customs is a breeze in Reykjavík and when we arrive in Paris, we pass quickly through in the EU line. Anyone who has been caught in customs at Charles de Gaulle airport (voted in one poll the “world’s most hated airport”) when two or three international flights arrive at the same time knows exactly what this means.

We arrive at CDG about noon and will be on our way in our new car by 1:30 or so. We will head directly southwest to Chartres, where we will spend the next couple of days photographing the magnificent Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres. As you probably know, the cathedral is undergoing an extensive and somewhat contentious restoration. Some critics decry the loss of the “patina” of the church and its associated atmosphere. We believe that the restoration is magnificent and that the patina will be restored over time while the deterioration is stopped.

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

The last time we were in Chartres, the apse had just been completed and the teams were working on the side aisles. The nave was untouched. We understand now that both the side aisles and the nave have been completed, which means the interior is almost complete. Some sets of windows still are being restored, but it will be our first opportunity to see and photograph the restoration of Bay 140, financed by our great colleagues at the American Friends of Chartres, who previously financed the restoration of the superb evangelist lancets in the south transept.

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

Of course when we go to Chartres we have to visit with the indomitable 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 efforts of the French government to restore this glorious cathedral. We also get to spend time with Gilles Fresson, historien et intendant of the cathedral. He is a fountain of knowledge about Notre Dame de Chartres and guides us through the walls and in the hidden corners of the structure.

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

Sirui P-204S monopod
Sirui P-204S monopod
In preparation for the work at Chartres, we have made some changes in equipment. PJ now has a new camera, the latest version of the estimable Canon 5D that she has used for a decade. It gives her much greater resolution and the “Live View” preview.

Our work demands that we use tripods because of the long exposures that we use in the churches. This works perfectly for most of the time, but there are times when the tripod is too bulky to us. For that reason, we also got PJ a monopod, the Sirui P-204S, to carry when she enters the upper warrens of the cathedral. No longer does she have to lug her tripod in those close and narrow confines. With this fine piece of equipment, she has a versatile monopod/tripod that folds down to just two feet and weighs less than three pounds.

It is hard to believe we are so short a time away from this trip. In two months we will be photographing Chartres again starting our France adventure for 2017. Can’t wait to show you the results of the photography and the restoration.

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

11 thoughts on “And we begin in Chartres (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. My wife and I are fortunate to have visited Chartres over more than twenty years and to have watched its gradual transformation, beginning, little by little, with the cleaning of the windows from their blackened state to their present magnificence, then most recently two years ago, through the restoration of the apse and part of the nave to its original beauty. While antiquarians may lament what they see as the loss of its “ancient” character, it is important to realize that the goal is to return Chartres as faithfully as possible to what it would have looked like originally. If the goal of the Gothic innovations was to allow as much light to flood the cathedral, surely that must have meant to illuminate not just the windows, but the colorful interior as well. The transformation is breathtaking, and we look forward to seeing your beautiful photos of the cathedral in its (hopefully) finished state.

    1. Dennis, the transformation is breathtaking. The windows that everyone referred to as “jeweled” were dark and grimy, the interior was almost invisible. Now, the windows sparkle and glow again, the deep rich colors are revealed, and the interior is magnificently illuminated by natural light, which was the intent of the builders. Thank you for your commentary and observations. And thank you for the kind words about our photos.

  2. Can’t wait to see/hear from you re Chartres. I would like to return for some more photographs of my own when they are done with the interior. I understand that they are now working on the transept. Keep up the good work.

    1. Mike, I wouldn’t be surprised that they are still working on the transepts. It will prove to be a huge contrast between all the restored church and then in the middle, on both sides, the dark transepts.

  3. Thank you for stating that second reason for flying through Iceland. Even more reason to wish that Icelandic Air flew from Halifax NS all year round rather than just in the summer. Chartres looks amazing after the restoration; I look forward to seeing this year’s photos.

  4. I am very eager to read your future post about Chartres and see your new photos. (By the way, your first photo of the apse is magnificent! How did you ever get to that wonderful vantage point?) It sounds like we both last visited there around the same time. I blogged about my impressions and experience there as well. If you would like to read a church architect’s point of view on the restoration, please go to Of course, I may have a completely different point of view on the subject after seeing your new photos and reading more about it. Sounds like a wonderful trip! Enjoy it!

    1. Jim, thanks so much for your kind words. For the shot that you mention, PJ was up in the tribunes, actually inside the organ (those are the pipes that you see on the right.)

      I had actually read your article a couple of years ago. What made us respect the restoration were the conversations with the people actually designing and carrying out the restorations. The paint color was actually matching what was uncovered when the restorers peeled back the layers going back to the original cathedral. Even they were not positive about the results, and in fact the selection that they made might have been a shade too light. But it is certainly in the ballpark. Many of the critics say that in light that we do not know what the original looked like, it was going too far to restore it as is being done. But as Gilles Fresson pointed out to us, “We do know what it looked like it. We can see it in the columns.”

      Would very much like to hear more when we post the new Chartres photos. Thanks so much for your contribution.

  5. It’s been just over 40 years since I visited Chartres and I was sold on it there and then. I must go back now and see it anew.
    Incidentally Dennis, the Cathedral in Reykjavik (Hallgrímskirkja) is worth seeing as a piece of 20th century expressionism; maybe a bit “Gee-whizz” but if you have the time.

    1. Doug, the Hallgrímskirkja is on our list. When I was sick a few years ago, we stopped in Iceland for three days for me to recover for the second half of the flight home. We drove around the island’s south west side the entire time, fell in love with it, but never made it up to Reykjavik! We are planning a visit later. We are thinking of getting a camper and driving the circumference road around the island.

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