A Controversial Restoration That Wipes Away the Past

CHARTRES, France — The pilgrim did not find what he was searching for. As a child, Patrice Bertrand heard his mother recount details of her visit to the shrine of the famous Black Madonna of Chartres Cathedral, 60 miles southwest of Paris. Now Mr. Bertrand, 41, of Nantes, was following in her footsteps. But he was perplexed by what he discovered: “The statue I came to see is not here anymore,” he said. The Black Madonna had become white.

The decision to remove what a plaque in the cathedral calls the “unsightly coating” from the 16th-century wooden icon has come to symbolize the contested transformation of Chartres, which has been undergoing a decade-long restoration. For almost 500 years, pilgrims worshiped the Virgin’s dark visage, and it accrued the kind of mythic currency integral to Catholic worship. To some critics, the repainting has erased a cultural memory from a building its restorers say they are saving. [ . . . ] Read Full Story NY Times

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