Lumieres Retrouvez at Chartres

“The elders of Israel…. came to Samuel and said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways.” – 1 Samuel 8:4

The cathedral at Chartres is undergoing a major renovation. The windows have been brought out, put back in and cleaned. They were filthy, mostly from decades of candles burning. The current priest in charge has refused to replace the real candles with electronic candles – so the renovation will have to be done again in a few hundred years.

Unfortunately, his intervention is only one of two “religious” interventions in the great religious space. The other is the messaging of “Lumieres Retrouvez,” the slogan of the cathedral’s capital campaign. Lumieres means light, what the builders of Chartres imagined God to be. Lumieres Retrouvez means light reborn or recovered or refound.

Retrouvez might mean reborn, a word with some religious oomph. It might also mean – to the secular preservationists who are paying for the work – recovered or refound. The cathedral renovation is being done by people who are “preservationists but not religious” or “aesthetic but not religious.”

I am not one bit bothered that so many people care about this great building so much that they are spending extraordinary time, energy and money to restore it. I am a bit bothered by the lack of God language in the restoration. Has the building been desacralized? Or resacralized? What does this lightweight spirituality mean to those of us currently trying to hang on to our buildings and restore them? We know that we are old and that our sons and daughters don’t follow our ways. Still, God matters.


Help us find a way to our sons and daughters and children to help them find an undiluted religion, a spirituality large enough to gift us a new Chartres, in France and in Missouri and in our hearts. Amen.

ddauthordonnaschaper.jpgAbout the Author
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Her most recent book is I Heart Frances: Letters to the Pope from an Unlikely Admirer.