Tag Archives: Chartres Cathedral

If It’s Tuesday, That Must Be Talleyrand

Or, Why You Might Not Want to Travel With Me. I’m nearing the end of a 9-day trip to France, and for sure I know I married the right guy all those years ago. He cheerfully drives anywhere, this time from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the Loire Valley and back, with at least two or three stops at sights every day. If you don’t like a slightly hectic travel pace, you might not want to tag along with us.

We based ourselves in tiny Chenonceaux, pretty central for the Loire Valley. (The town’s name ends with an X but the chateau’s name is Chenonceau).

And Chenonceau is the most beautiful and fascinating chateau anywhere, if you ask me. Plus Chenonceau always smells wonderful. Every single room always has fresh flowers, as no doubt they did in the days that Diane de Poitiers and later Catherine de Medici gazed out the leaded-glass windows at the River Cher.

Thanks to the wonders of our Garmin GPS to find places, and my trusty iPhone cellular data to double-check opening times, we covered a lot of ground on this trip. Also, we were seeing some of these places for the second or even the third time. (For us, history never gets old. It just gets more interesting).

Here are a few of my other favorite things from this trip:

Claude Monet’s Gardens and Home in Giverny.

Chateau Azay-le-Rideau: a jewel of a Renaissance castle, recently renovated and sparkling on its own pretty little island.

Chateau de Cheverny: owned by the same family for hundreds of years, plus they have about one hundred happy hunting dogs.

Chartres Cathedral, one of the greatest medieval pilgrimage sites, always spectacular (even though I don’t understand why the interior was recently whitewashed. I have mixed feelings about the very controversial recent “renovation”). I really love the mismatched towers, pretty unique in cathedrals. What were the builders thinking, as the second tower went up? Who gave them permission? Well, it works for me.

Chateau de Blois, layers of history plus a generous serving of murder and mayhem.

And as for Talleyrand? He was the right-hand diplomat of Napoleon Bonaparte, among many other things in his gleefully scandalous life. He pretty much did as he pleased and had a wonderful time. His Chateau de Valencay is lovely in a faded-elegance way, and very entertaining.

Just above, the fairy-tale towers and turrets of Chateau d’Usse.

I have lots more just to list, but I still have a couple of days to see as much as possible. Time to plan what else to see. I’ll finish my trip list later. Naturally, I took a ton of photos and picked up a ton of guidebooks. I’ll post much more about each of these sights and all the rest after I catch my breath. To be continued!

Evensong at Chartres

Chartres in medieval times was a pilgrimage site because it was believed that the bodies of early martyrs had been tossed into a deep well on the premises of what is now the Cathedral. Various churches were built on the site over the centuries.  Around the year 876, the church was given a treasure:  the “Sancta Camisa,” believed to be a tunic or shawl worn by Mary at the time she gave birth to Jesus. Over the succeeding centuries, this relic became an attraction for pilgrims in its own right. Was there any truth to the legend? Recent scientific studies have established that the fragile garment dates from the 1st century. It is now kept in a lovely side chapel of the Cathedral.


I always think the best way to see a great cathedral, or any church that is a tourist destination, is to attend a service.  Even when I can’t understand much or any of the language spoken, it’s an opportunity to sit in quiet contemplation while listening to beautiful music and being immersed in a sublimely spiritual place.


When I recently visited Chartres, there were two services, almost back to back: a Mass and Evensong.  I attended both. Mass is an ancient and beautiful ritual.  Although it is not in my religious tradition, I have always felt entirely welcome attending Mass.


Evensong is almost equally old.  At Chartres, many people from various religious traditions are there to study. They are invited to prepare and participate in the Evensong service, which is mostly chanted and sung.  I could be wrong, but it seemed to me that Evensong participants did not necessarily have to be Catholic. About a dozen people, both men and women, filed in wearing pristine white robes.

At Chartres, believers and non-believers seem equally welcome to experience the peace and loveliness of a place that has been a spiritual haven for many centuries.


The American Colonel Who Saved a Cathedral

The 12th-century Cathedral in Chartres, France draws the eye from many miles around.  Its two towers are among the highest structures in that part of France, and they have beckoned pilgrims for many hundreds of years.

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On August 16, 1944, American forces were approaching the city of Chartres on their way to help liberate Paris.  They were under heavy fire, and commanders assumed the Germans must be spotting their approach from one of the cathedral’s towers.  So an order was given to shell the Cathedral.  An American Colonel, Welborn Griffith, questioned the order.  He volunteered to go behind enemy lines to investigate.  Only one enlisted man went along on this dangerous mission.  After searching the Cathedral and climbing the towers, Colonel Griffith signaled that the church was clear of the enemy; the bombardment was cancelled and the town taken, but not without a fight.

Colonel Griffith was killed in the ensuing firefight in Leves, just on the outskirts of Chartres.  Some of the locals saw him fall.  They covered him with blankets, flowers, and with an American flag until his body could be taken away.  The locals had pieced together the facts of his heroic action that saved their beloved Cathedral from destruction.  In gratitude, they placed a plaque with his name on the spot where he fell.

However, the name on his dogtag confused them.  His name was recorded as Griffith Welborn, not Welborn Griffith.  For nearly 50 years, his family had no idea that he had saved one of the world’s most important and beautiful Cathedrals.  Finally, in the 1990s, a local amateur historian discovered the mistake and contacted the Colonel’s descendants.  Some of them traveled from the United States to Chartres, where during a ceremony honoring him, the strains of “The Star Spangled Banner” echoed through the magnificent Cathedral.  Today, a park in Leves honors Colonel Griffith. He is featured in one of the explanatory displays within the Cathedral, which expresses profound gratitude to him and to the other Americans who served alongside him.

On this Memorial Day, when Americans solemnly honor their war dead, I think of heroes, both famous and obscure, who have given their lives for the cause of freedom.