Even though we only visited two churches today, they were both magnificent edifices.The weather was absolutely picture-perfect with blue skies and cool breezes. The first stop was St Clotilde, the church where César Franck was organist.
Carl and I absolutely loved this Gothic building, with its very high ceilings and wide transepts. It’s in buildings like this that we wonder what it would be like to work in such a marvelous space, not only acoustically spacious but beautiful in its architecture. It was obvious that people in this parish had taken care of this building because except for some faded frescos on the transept walls, everything looked almost new.
I was surprised that there was no permanent plaque for César Franck, but they did list the notable organists who had served this church. Besides Franck, there was also Gabriel Pierné, Charles Tournemire, and Jean Langlais and all of them had very long tenures. Carl was wondering how it was that so many organists in Paris were notable musicians — must be something in the water!
Then we took the Metro to Gare Montparnasse where we had to validate our rail passes. It took us just over an hour to get to Chartres, and like other small towns, the cathedral is the tallest building around. When I was here 40 years ago, they were just starting to clean the building, and I was a little disappointed that there was scaffolding over the outside of the main rose window. However, the Cathedral is now undergoing a 5-year restoration, to be completed in 2014. I can’t venture to say how much is done so far but the obviously restored sections are absolutely beautiful.
We took a guided tour with Malcolm Miller, an institution here at Chartres, as he has been on the job for 52 years. Quite possibly when I was here 40 years ago, I had him as the guide. We found him extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of the Cathedral and his presentation was absolutely first-rate, occasionally humorous. This was also our introduction to wearing headsets on a guided tour, which allows the guide to talk in a whisper and everyone can hear clearly.
We visited the crypt where there were many chapels decorated in a contemporary style. Even though our guide only spoke French, it was still very interesting to see the various chapels and ancient stonework.
We had decided to eat dinner at one of the small cafes circling the cathedral and were not disappointed. The food was typically French, including an unusual salad topped with scrambled eggs, a duck breast in gravy with sauteed potatoes, and a sumptuous amandine for dessert — only 15 euros for all.
The vespers at Chartres was sung by three women singing chant in unison and attended by only a handful of people. It was marred by one of the worshippers who obviously knew all the chant responses and sang out loudly about a minor second off, creating a nasty dissonance throughout. Quel dommage!