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You Can Help Stop Cultural Destruction: Chartres Chapter

Universally recognized as a masterpiece of cultural heritage–inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979–the Cathedral of Our Lady in Chartres is under attack by its would-be restorers. Now maybe you can help stop the dreadful makeover that has been underway for a while.

ChartresLaserMapI wrote about this issue, which was ignited by Martin Filler, last December (see Restoration Scandal at Chartres Cathedral), and today I received an email from a self-described “Physics PhD student at the University of Arizona” named Stefan Evans. Evans, who is studying physics and art history, wrote:

When I saw a photo of Chartres Cathedral a few years ago, an interest in Gothic architecture sparked inside of me; it has since grown into a passion of mine. I read your article on the cathedral’s restoration and was heartbroken when I visited Chartres this summer. Since then I’ve been working on a petition to halt the irresponsible restoration.

He is not alone. As you will remember, Chartres has been praised by many, including Kenneth Clark, who wrote: “Chartres is the epitome of the first great awakening in European civilisation. It is also the bridge between Romanesque and Gothis, between the world of Abelard and the world of St. Thomas Aquinas, the world of restless curiosity and the world of system and order.”
Co-sponsored by art historians, and directed at French officials, you can sign the petition here. It says, in part:

Most alarming is the addition of paint and filling material on walls and columns: 800-year-old windows and floors are in the same setting as surfaces made to appear like they were built yesterday – a shocking contrast. Articles 3 and 6 of the 1964 Venice Charter emphasize historical evidence being as important as the work of art itself, and that “No new construction, demolition or modification which would alter the relations of mass and colour must be allowed”.

The 1964 Charter of Venice is violated not only by the addition of paint and filling material that are not historically accurate, but also by inconsistencies between the cathedral’s history and the attempt to restore its original appearance. In addition to several window replacements in the 14th and 18th centuries, the north tower was constructed in a different style in the 16th century, followed by the choir screen which took over 200 years to complete. The current restoration makes these historical differences unperceivable.

The petition is just getting started, and it may have no impact. But remember that a petition about the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin help persuade the Germans to leave their Old Master there, in full view, instead of contracting the number on exhibition. That, too, was pushed by Americans.

Meantime, you may be interested in this article about art historians who are using lasers to “unlock mysteries of Gothic cathedrals.”  That’s where I grabbed the picture above.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of National Geographic


  1. Stop putting a new Smiley Face 🙂
    on French architectural treasures !

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