Monday 21 September 2009


Well, it's been an eventful week (in an entirely good way) since I last posted. Not only did I make my first visit to Chartres, I also spent last weekend in Norfolk with the Yard, who might not have been saying much on his blog lately, but in person was in sparkling form. The weekend - which was gloriously sunny - included a degree of eating and excessive drinking, playing 12-inch vinyl loudly and generally rolling back the years (40 of them since we first met, as callow 'freshers'), but it began and ended in church crawling, in a county thick with fine churches. Sunday included one of the greatest west fronts in the country, Binham Priory, and one of the most perfect in the Decorated style, at Snettisham - and culminated in the vast,luminous, airy interior of St Nicholas, King's Lynn, a seemingly weightless masterpiece of Perpendicular, more glass than stone. Mellow warm September sun, church crawling with a dear friend from way back - it doesn't get much better than that. There were even butterflies - in several churches peacocks and toroiseshells, distracted by the sun from their attempts to hibernate, were fluttering darkly high up against the brilliant windows...
And before that there was Chartres. What can I say that hasn't already been said about that great cathedral? I knew it from books and pictures, but of course nothing can prepare you for the impact of the place itself - its sheer scale, the overwhelming beauty of its plain Gothic style, and the wonders of its sculptures and stained glass. Not to mention the unexpected darkness of the interior, which is only minimally lit, leaving the work of illumination to those magnificent stained glass windows, nearly all of them in place after seven centuries, most of them restored to full brilliance, all together giving an effect unlike any other church on this vast scale. My only regret was that I never saw them with full sun coming through - the weather was iffy and mostly cloudy. Still, it was quite beautiful and awe-inspiring enough - an endlessly rewarding building, inside and out. And the old town, by the river, at the foot of the cathedral crag, is quite lovely. I'm more than glad I've finally been to Chartres...
One thing I missed on my wanderings around the town was the memorial to Charles Peguy, to whom Chartres meant so much. To judge by Geoffrey Hill's poem The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Peguy (which I had with me in Chartres), I didn't miss much:

'.... Peguy, you mock us now.
History takes the measure of your brow
in blank-eyed bronze, brave mediocre work
of Niclausse, sculpteur, cornered in the park

among the stout dogs and lame patriots
and all those ghosts, far-gazing in mid-stride,
rising from where they fell, still on parade,
covered in glory and the blood of beetroots.'

Peguy died in a beetroot field, shot through the head on the first day of the battle of the Marne.


  1. Glad to see you back Nige and good to know that Bryan's fine. I've missed his blog presence.

  2. Darn, only just noticed. Some thrilling shots in the portfolio of the photographer you sourced your header image from.