In 2009, the French Ministry of Culture began an $18 million restoration of the medieval Chartres Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site 50 miles southwest of Paris. By 2017, the Gothic structure is intended to look similar to the original 1194–1250 construction. However, as the past 765 years of dirt and grime are erased, critics are denouncing the project.
CHARTRES CATHEDRAL BEFORE AND AFTER RESTORATION. (COURTESY FR. RAY BLAKE) BEIGE PAINT WITH FAUX STONE JOINTS NEXT TO ORIGINAL MASONRY. (COURTESY ALEXANDER GORLIN)
To cleanse the interior of candle and oil grime, the French Ministry of Culture is painting the interior masonry its original color, a creamy-white. However, the freshly painted masonry looks out of place against the undulating stone floor. And now, the floor, worn by centuries of pilgrims, looks filthy against the freshly painted walls.
Originally, the vaults were illuminated by candles that hung from the columns and natural light that filtered through the stained glass windows. Now, the space is lit with bright, 21st century lighting.
Martin Filler, in his blog on the New York Review of Books website, accused Patrice Calvel, former architect in chief of the French Ministry of Culture, of a destruction similar to “adding arms to the Venus de Milo.” In an article in Le Figaro, Adrien Goetz compared it to “watching a film in a cinema where they haven’t switched off the lights.”
Calvel defended his “vacuum cleaning,” saying, “It has the full weight of the administration of state, historians and architects who decided over a 20-year period what would be done.” But when asked whether or not parishioners were consulted, Calvel said, “I’m very democratic, but the public is not competent to judge.”
Calvel’s research unveiled that in medieval times, “everything was painted.” However, Calvel will not paint the exterior, saying, “If we tried to do that on the outside I would be hanged.”
Stefan Evans, Franco Scardino, Leila Amineddoleh, and Adachiara Zevi started a petition, Save Chartres Cathedral, to stop the renovation. The four sponsors believe Chartres’s restoration violates the 1964 Venice Charter, which prohibits the addition of new construction, demolition, or modification of historic buildings in ways that change the original composition and color.
Save Chartres Cathedral has 573 supporters and counting. The petition can be signed here.EXTERIOR OF CHARTRES CATHEDRAL. (COURTESY CONNIE MA FLICKR)