The Stained Glass of Chartres

How the famous French cathedral was protected during World War I and II

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Posted in , Oct 15, 2014

Photo of a rose window at Chartres Cathedral by Claudio Giovanni Colombo

Today's guest blogger is Meg Belviso. She recently took a spiritual tour of France. Here's the fourth installment about her travels.

Photo of Chartres cathedral rose window by Natalia Bratslavsky, ThinkstockIf you walk around Chartres, in #SpiritualFrance at night, you’ll find the whole town transformed by an amazing light show. The central attraction, of course, is Chartres’ cathedral, Le Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres.

The current cathedral has stood on the spot since the early 13th century–and it’s been attracting pilgrims for just as long. Those early visitors often slept right in the cathedral itself–that’s why the floors near the entrance were built to slope downward, making them easier to clean!

There’s a lot of artistry evident in the cathedral, and none is more beautiful than its 176 stained glass windows. The windows have fascinated people for so long that the cathedral now offers classes in the art of stained glass for both professionals and beginners.

Students learn not only modern techniques for working with glass, but how early craftsmen made masterpieces like the 12th century rose window.

That masterpiece, which is the exact same size as the labyrinth on the floor below it, is made with glass tinted with cobalt oxide to create a deep blue unlike any other.

The people of Chartres are understandably protective of their cathedral and its glass. At the start of World War I and II, rather than chance the windows being damaged, the city had them all immediately removed and placed in the crypt.

Still, the cathedral was almost destroyed in 1944 when Allied forces suspected the occupying German army was using the cathedral tower as a lookout. Rather than simply destroy the cathedral as ordered, US Army Colonel Welborn Barton Griffin, Jr. offered to slip behind enemy lines to find out the truth.

He and one other soldier were able to enter the cathedral and report back that it was not occupied by the Germans, thus saving it from being bombed. To this day, Colonel Griffin is considered a hero and friend to the city of Chartres. 

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You can read Meg's first intallmentsecond installment and third installment about her trip around spiritual France!

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