Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Restoration at Chartres

A friend has pointed out to me an article by Alasdair Palmer in The Spectator about the continuing programme of cleaning the interior of Chartres cathedral. It questions the suitability of such a project and can be read here.

I see that Malcolm Miller, the great guide to the glass of the cathedral, approves of the scheme, and, on the basis of what is in the article I am inclined to do so as well.


The nave of Chartres looking towards the choir


When I visited Chartres in 1992 it felt, unlike some other French cathedrals, to still be a living place of prayer. The glass is spectacular, as is the survival of the medieval floor. It was also very dark - yes, a veritable 'dim religious light' - and I do also recall a certain griminess to it. So yes clean it and restore it to something more like it was eight centuries ago. Maybe go further,and re-colour at least some of the carvings, if not exactly, then more-or-less as they once were.

Like most medieval French cathedrals Chartres suffered from a fairly drastic post-Trent re-ordering - they closed the cathedral for a few days  and ripped out all the medieval chantry chapels - and then there was Ancien Regime neglect and 'improvement' so it is difficult to appreciate it as it would have appeared to visitors, to pilgrims in its earler centuries of existence.

Alasdair Palmer's criticism seems to be based on an aesthetic sense of what is suitable to an eight hundred year old monument rather than what is appropriate to the creators of the cathedral or to a continuing place of worship. The "grime is historic"argument does not impress me.


The nave illuminated and with the medieval labyrinth visible


Patricius said...

Thanks for this informative piece. As any housewife knows, the patina of age does not take long to return!
I first heard Malcolm Miller at Chartres in 1973 and am delighted to hear he survives.

Christopher said...

The 'grime is historic' argument may not impress you. Look at your own photograph which shows an amaxing and beautiful sight. Go now to Eglise de Brou or Fontevraux and see the hideous French Official school of restoration - bright white paint and fluorescent blue spotlighting.
That makes three places I loved ruined by French over-restauration. There are plenty of others.
For the real Disney effect Viollet le Duc can take a bit of beating. Look at the cathedral at Periguex or the ramparts of Carcasonne.
When they have finished the walls at Chartres, to finish the job they should add Mickey Mouse ears to the Black Virgin and maybe to the statues outside.