Monday, 6 August 2007

Chartres by night

We had an evening out yesterday in Chartres. First to hear the organ concert, then to see 'Chartres en lumière', the illuminated city by night.

To my amazement the cathedral is open till 10 - officially; actually there were still people inside at 1030 and no one seemed to be making any great attempt to push them out. There was also an extra free concert, 'Musique et silence', with a violin and cello duo playing; during which you were quite free to wander around, or sit and listen.

I know Chartres cathedral pretty well but coming to it in the late evening showed me another side to the building. When we got to it at four thirty, the sun outside was bright, and the glass shone out as I've never seen it before - the whole cathedral was bathed in blue and red from the stained glass. And suddenly I noticed something I'd never seen before - how the great north rose breaks with the prevailing blue of the rest of the cathedral, and instead creates a fanfare of red and orange - a blast of colour.

The lights weren't put on till nearly half past nine, so the cathedral gradually dimmed as the sun declined; at one point the only light, practically, was the west window blazing in the sunset, a symphony of blue. And the whole place felt different; quieter, more meditative. Just before they put the lights on, all you could see in the ambulatory was a smear of colour from the stained glass, almost extinguished, and the banks of candles in front of t Virgin of the Pillar.

The light show came on at 1030. It's not just the cathedral that is lit up; quite a few of the other buildings in the city are also illuminated, including the church of Saint Pierre  lit both from the inside (to show its wonderful stained glass) and from outside, with pictures from medieval manuscripts. But the cathedral facade is the tour de force; a five minute show drops architectural elements into place, with pictures of builders from the stained glass, and finally the whole facade is covered with a projection of the Virgin and Child from the window of the 'Vierge de la Belle Verriere'.

My favourite though was the north porch, where the lighting is used to colour in the statues. A fascinating, ephemeral  view of the medieval sculpture in bright colour - the way it might originally have been, before wind and rain stripped the paint from the creamy stone.  And the bridges on the river, illuminated with lettering around the arches to tell the story of the city.

The strange thing was how few people were chasing the lights. Perhaps because it was a Sunday evening; if we'd gone on Saturday it might have been busier.  So rather than what we'd expected, which was a busy experience like the Versailles night opening, what we got was a rather quiet, meditative mosey around a deserted French town. Highly recommended for a very different night out.

Also highly recommended; 'Le Mughal' in Rue de la Clouterie . EUR 20 each gets you a three course meal with fish tikka, chicken tandoori, and a choice of curries (or you can select from the vegetarian menu).


  1. Wow, this sounds like a fantastic experience!! I will definitely keep it in mind for the future.

  2. I've loaded up some pics of the event to my Flickr page ( Enough to give you a feel for the event and hopefully not make you feel too envious.