Friday, 27 February 2015

Chartres Cathedral and Malcolm Miller

On our trip back from the UK we stopped overnight at Chartres, in a hotel right next to the cathedral.

Click the image to enlarge

The last time I went to Chartres was in 1972 during a holiday to the Loire valley, which turned out to be a slow and painful break-up with my girlfriend.  In spite of the circumstances I have many special memories of most of the places we visited, but particularly of Chartres cathedral.

Inside the cathedral we cheekily attached ourselves to a tour group which had an English guide in his late thirties.  He wasn't very happy with this, and it’s only now that I realize that we should have paid, but I honestly didn't know that at the time.  

His tour was absolutely excellent.  This man was able to read the stories in the exceptional and magnificent 13th century stained glass windows as if they were written in English. He then took us outside and did the same thing with the sculptures around the doors. 

The Tympanum above the West Door
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In the medieval period, when there was no printing and most people couldn't read, the windows and sculptures were used to explain the bible stories to visitors to the cathedral. It was in effect a beautiful public library.

I was extremely impressed by him all those years ago, and very grateful to have had the opportunity to begin to understand the significance of the art and symbolism of the medieval period.  

When he finished he said that he would be there until Judgement Day and invited us all to return before then!

On this visit I wanted to buy a book, in English, which interpreted the exceptional collection of stained glass in a similar way and found this one in the picture on the left. It was exactly what I wanted, since it dealt with both the glass and the sculptures, giving an explanation of many of the windows and their location on a plan. When I read the blurb, and the author Malcolm Miller’s biography, it was soon clear that it was the same person behind whom we tagged along, trying to look inconspicuous, all those years ago.

The Rose Window in the Southern Transept
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There are 175 stained glass windows in the cathedral mostly dating from the 13th century. This example, which represents the life of the Virgin Mary, was restored in 1993.

The Blue Virgin Window
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I was even more impressed with the cathedral this time since, during the last 45 years, I’ve learnt more about the medieval period and I appreciate it much more, but I missed Malcolm Miller’s expertise. 

Malcolm Miller has been granted two of the highest civic honours by the French government: a knighthood in the National Order of Merit, and another in the Order of Arts and Letters. I'm very pleased that the quality of his work, and his devotion to the study and interpretation of Chartres Cathedral, has been recognized.

Here is a much younger Malcolm Miller explaining the structural function of the architecture to a group of students.

Some more research later showed that he is still guiding tours at the age of 81 and he says that he continues to discover new things in the stained glass and sculptures. His tours run daily, normally at noon, from Easter until late October excepting Sundays.   He is also available for private tours if requested, his email address is 

Versions of his book are available in several languages : FrenchGerman, Japanese