Lockdown works in mysterious ways in ‘the most beautiful town in France’

As the cathedral in Chartres reopens, sacred and profane struggle with Covid-19 constraints

The French poet Charles Péguy described Our Lady of Chartres as a star of the sea, rising above oceans of wheatfields on the plains of La Beauce.

It is more prosaic to approach the Gothic masterpiece from the autoroute, but its majesty is nonetheless stunning.

I visited Chartres because it falls within the 100km “perimeter of liberty” accessible to Parisians under Covid-19 regulations.

The cathedral’s website announced that it would reopen to visitors on the afternoon of May 14th. They would be required to wear masks. Fifty could enter at a time, if they observed social distancing.

The rules changed overnight. The prefecture, the arm of the interior ministry which is responsible for religious affairs, grew alarmed at the prospect of Parisians flocking to the beauty spot 86km to the southwest of the capital.

“This is the contradiction we’ve been living with since the beginning of the epidemic,” Fr Emmanuel Blondeau (56), the rector and parish priest, said. “The state says: ‘Stay at home but go to work. We’re lifting the lockdown but don’t move. Don’t go to Chartres, which is the most beautiful town in France.’”

Father Emmanuel Blondeau, rector of Notre Dame de Chartres cathedral on the day the Gothic and Romanesque church reopened to townsfolk and people wishing to pray. Photograph: Tala Skari
Father Emmanuel Blondeau, rector of Notre Dame de Chartres cathedral on the day the Gothic and Romanesque church reopened to townsfolk and people wishing to pray. Photograph: Tala Skari


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Instead of 50 people, only 10 visitors are allowed to enter the sanctuary at a time. Continue reading “Lockdown works in mysterious ways in ‘the most beautiful town in France’”