Saturday, April 25, 2009


When visiting Paris, I encourage everyone to take a field trip to Chartres. It’s about an hour by train and will only enhance your excursion. Chartres is most noted because it houses the Gothic cathedral Notre Dame de Chartres—yep, there is more than one Notre Dame or ‘Our Lady’ out there.
This spectacular edifice is probably most well known around the world for its un-matching front towers created 400 years apart. However, there are a few things that make this Cathedral well worth a visit to yet another church.

For one, it houses the oldest most intact set of stained glass windows in the world—152 to be exact. These extraordinary works of art align the building—many of which have been fully restored, allowing the full vibrancy of color to captivate the viewer. Each panel of glass depicts a story from the Bible allowing the common man from a millennium ago to share in the church’s biblical study. The stories have been lost to most of us in the modern world, but there is someone who can fill us in on the gaps.

...And that brings us to the second thing that must be mentioned about Chartres, which is not actually about the place itself. Rather, it's about tour guide Malcolm Miller. He has been acquainting English speaking tourists with its spectacular history since 1956. After a half century, he is frankly part of the Chartres iconography and makes the trip all the more entertaining.

There is a reason why Miller has been included in all the travel guides for years. As an author and an expert on the his beloved cathedral, he will surely add to your Chartres experience and is well worth every centime. Out of any tour I have ever taken anywhere, he truly gives the best. Even after a half century of study he claims he is still learning about the building. Thankfully for us, he never stops learning and never stops teaching. Inevitably there will be someone in your group who has taken his tour in the past. If you are as lucky as I have been to have taken his tour before, feel free to take it again and again. He has such a wealth of information that each visit will be like the first.

Undoubtedly, he will mention that as the name implies, the cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Now a tourist site, Chartres was once a place of pilgrimage for many Christians especially during the Middle Ages. It houses various relics—including a now scientifically documented 2,000 year old cloth apparently worn by the Virgin during the birth of Christ. Whether it truly was worn by her or not, one can’t help but be impressed that the fabric is indeed twenty centuries old.

If walking a labyrinth is something that interests you, visit Chartres on a Friday. The extra seating that normally covers the area is removed in order for those to walk in contemplation on one of the most famous labyrinths in Europe. For myself, I enjoyed the walking meditation so much, I practiced for over three hours. Needless to say, I am a big fan. To read more about my labyrinth experience, please read my article, simply titled The Labyrinth.

On my third visit in 2009, Chartres was in the process of a major overhaul and scaffolding hinders part of the altar from view, but don’t let that stop you from visiting. Most of the building is in plain sight and the good news is that centuries of grime and soot are being carefully lifted in order to eventually display the once radiant painted colors of the statuary and the cathedral itself. On May 12th, 2009 the first unveiling of two areas will be presented to the public. I was able to capture a peak of a few test spots in the church where both cream and red were peaking through the dirt. I can only imagine what the finished product will look like and look forward to my next journey there.

Tours with Malcolm Miller every day (except Sundays and while he is traveling) at:
Noon and 2:45
Meet in front of the gift shop near the entrance.
(Please note, this price was in 2009, please check with Malcolm for current pricing)

Thank you for reading and bonne journée!