The Cathedral 

Before venturing into the restoration, the reason behind it, and the rest, a quick brief about the cathedral. The Chartres Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, is a Roman-Catholic Church in France. Constructed during the period between 1194 and 1220, the site initially had at least five cathedrals among which this was one. The cathedral was designated a World Heritage Site in 1979, as it was a masterpiece of French Gothic art and the Romanesque style. Chartres Cathedral has been an important travel destination for immigrants, especially attracting Christian pilgrims, especially to revere the famous relic, Sancta Camisa, the tunic worn by Virgin Mary during Christ’s birth. Other secular tourists come in to praise the architecture and historical merit of the place.  

Timeline of restoration: Chartres Cathedral - Sheet1
Chatres Cathedral_©commons.wikimedia.org

The Destruction

Unfortunately, similar disasters struck all the cathedrals one after the other. The first church dating from the 4th century was put to the torch in 743 following the orders of the Duke of Aquitaine. The second one was set on fire by the Danish pirates in 858 and was reconstructed. There was yet another fire in 962, followed by another reconstruction. After an extreme fire broke out in 1020, the church was decided to be rebuilt again. After a series of appealing’s to the Royal House, a lot of donations were collected, and the new cathedral was constructed above the Gothic remains. The façade and the bell tower were damaged again after a severe fire in 1134. On 10th June 1994, another major fire broke out, and only a few of the areas survived; the church was again rebuilt. 

A few alterations and additions were made here and there at regular intervals. In 1506, lightning struck and destroyed the spires, and they were rebuilt in the Flamboyant style. Wars never left the Chartres Cathedral too! During the French Revolution, a mob attacked to destroy sculptures inside the cathedral. The use of explosives was also deduced. In 1836, yet another fire broke out due to the negligence of the firemen. World Wars affected the cathedral too. Finally, in 2009, the final restoration took place that was carried out by the French Ministry of Culture for $18.5-million.  

Timeline of restoration: Chartres Cathedral - Sheet2
The Destruction_©artuk.org

The Timeline

743 CE – It was then that the existence of the Chartres Cathedral was mentioned in a text for the first time.  

876 CE Charles the Bald, an emperor, presented the cathedral with an important sacred relic, the veil of the Virgin Mary, thus making it an important tourist destination. 

1020 CE Fire damages occurred after which the cathedral was reconstructed again by Bishop Fulbert. 

1030 CE A new cathedral was constructed and added to the existing one by his successor, Bishop Thierry.

1134 CE The sculpture for the royal portals was constructed and integrated with the walls of the south tower. The portal on the Western façade was built between the towers, which was probably finished within a year after 1140. 

1170 CE The south bell tower was completed. 

1194 CE – Massive fire broke out throughout the city, and many parts of the cathedral were also affected. The crypts and the new facades were spared. Funds were raised and rebuilding happened. The west rose window was added. 

Timeline of restoration: Chartres Cathedral - Sheet3
The West Rose Window_©worldhistory.org

1221 CE – New vaults stand completed, canons moved into their new stalls, under the temporary roof the clerestory. The new choir was taken possession.

1210- 1250 CE –Installation of stained glass windows and naves. Most of them survive intact to date. There are 167 windows- round, tall, and pointed lancet ones. The genealogy of Christ is also depicted in one of the windows.    

Timeline of restoration: Chartres Cathedral - Sheet4
Depiction of Christ Genealogy_©wikipedia.org

1260 CE – The church was declared sacred in the presence of Louis IX. 

1270-1280 CE – Sacristy completed

1324-1353 CE  – Construction of the chapel of Saint Piat

1417 CE  – Chapel of the Annunciation completed

1507-1513 CE – The North fire was damaged by lightning and hence it was rebuilt in the Flamboyant style. The architect Jean Texier designed a spire for the North tower, to give it height and appearance closer to the south tower. The base of the tower contains a Renaissance-era twenty-four-hour clock. 

Timeline of restoration: Chartres Cathedral - Sheet5
The North Tower_©123rf.com

1513 CE Work began on the choir tower by Jehan de Beuce.  

1594 CE – The cathedral was also home to multiple crowning ceremonies; one such was the coronation of King Henry IV of France.

1789 CE – After the French Revolution, the church was seized and worship was forbidden. 

1792 CE – All of the government treasury was confiscated by the government. 

Only in 1802 CE , the church was restored to its exclusive use.

1836 CE – A fire spread, destroying the roof of the cathedral, the bells melted, and the stained glass remained intact though. The timber beams affected were replaced with iron frameworks with copper coverings. 

1840 CE – A great and apt recognition indeed – National Historic Monument

1908 CE – Promoted to become a basilica

1979 CE – Massive recognition and even better protection, designated as a World Heritage Site.

2009 CE – Almost from 1997 to 2018, the cathedral underwent a lot of cleaning processes, including many walls and sculptures. 

Timeline of restoration: Chartres Cathedral - Sheet6
The Aisles_©flickr.com

The Restoration and Controversies 

The main goal of the entire restoration process had always been not just to clean and maintain them but for people to experience how the cathedral would have looked in the 13 th century. The walls and the sculptures were covered with dust and soot due to age and were made white. The Black Madona statue that was famous, was cleaned, and she appeared all white. Shades of yellow and beige palettes to maintain the earlier medieval decoration. How not a controversy in heritage conservation ? There it was as soon as restorations began, starting with New York Times, stating that “ it was a scandalous desecration of a holy place ” since the work violated international conservation protocols. The new colors also didn’t go well with the intact stained glass windows. The President of the Friends of Chartres Cathedral Isabelle Paillot spoke in favor stating that the restoration was necessary to prevent the cathedral from rumbling.  

Timeline of restoration: Chartres Cathedral - Sheet7
The Restoration_©archdaily.com

Techniques used for Restoration 

There were different stages of restoration and they were varied. The first step initially was to set up scaffolding, a bunch of tubes that took almost three months. After which, every craftsman or woman gets work to clean a marquee or frieze, restore keystones, or repair the render. Dust cleaning techniques involved a brush, a damp sponge, a vacuum cleaner, or sometimes a surgical scalpel. For the removal of dirt off the statues, a layer of latex was applied like a mask and was then removed. For an even greater sculpted stone, cotton buds soaked in demineralized water were the simplest and safest methods. 

Scaffoldings_©archdaily.com

Conclusion 

Even though many controversies arose after the restoration phase, the Chartres Cathedral stands intact and well-preserved and is an exclamation point for all visitors. It is one of the most important landmarks in the history of medieval architecture.   

References:

  1. En.wikipedia.org. 2022.  Chartres Cathedral – Wikipedia . [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 August 2022].
  2. work, R., 2022.  Restoration work . [online] C’Chartres Tourisme. Available at: [Accessed 13 August 2022].
Author

Alamu Priya is a budding conservation architect pursuing her final year of masters from SPA, Vijayawada. An avid reader and writer, she believes that words create a profound impact on people and can be used as a weapon to unveil the magic behind architecture.

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