Recently, while digging through old photos of tourist attractions, I ran across a few taken in Chartres. This small town, 96km southwest of Paris (the train is fast and comfy) holds a cathedral that has been, for the last 800 years or so, arguably the most beautiful structure on the planet.
These two pictures do not attempt to capture the space or the light or the tall, tall curves. Each of the three times I have entered this building I have had to stop for a while because my eyes had sucked breath and blood out of my chest.
Chartres is amazingly poorly-presented on the Web. The best place to start is at the official presence of the Diocese, which after all owns it, and is the direct heir of the building’s builders; here we find L'art du vitrail dans la cathédrale est un ravissement pour l'œil et l'âme, tant les couleurs vibrent et irradient de cette lumière venue du dehors pour illuminer le cœur du visiteur. And they’re not just saying that.
The only book that comes close to capturing the visuals is one you can’t get on Amazon, believe it or not, but you can get it in the Cathedral bookshop. There’s this English guy born in 1933, Malcolm Miller, and last time I was there, he was still doing tours a few months of the year. No charge, but at the end he holds his hands in the air and they are filled with a variety of currencies. In geek parlance, he knows his shit. The book is Chartres Cathedral, text Malcolm Miller, photographs Sonia Halliday and Laura Lushington. Pitkin Pictorials, 1985. Trust me, it’s good.
But at the end of the day, the reason you might want to visit Chartres basically just isn’t there on the Web. Somebody ought to fix that.