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S_L

Chartres Cathedral

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I drove from my home to the UK and decided to do the long journey through France in two stages stopping at Chartres on the way. After a cheap hotel and an excellent meal we found ourselves in the Cathedral for the 'Grand Messe' at 11h00.

Years ago I was there and attended both the Mass sung to Gregorian chant at 09h00 and the 11h00. It had been a pretty torrid experience and, in truth, I wasn't expecting that a lot had changed.

Prior to the 11h00 Mass I had coffee with the titulaire opposite the cathedral and, just prior to 11h00, found myself in my usual place in church - on the left hand side about 6 rows from the front. There seemed to be hardly anyone there but it soon filled up. A procession of robed young people and adults made their way into the choir whilst Patrick Delabre improvised on the Grande orgue on the hymn 'Il est ne le Divin enfant' which began the celebration. The Bishop of Chartres celebrated. He is a very tall man and, complete with mitre must have been over eight feet tall!!! Clouds of smoke bellowed from the thurible and even the altar boys seemed to know what they were doing (all rather different from the last visit when my second son remarked that, had he been the celebrant, he would have "stuck his boot around that altar boys ****"!!!). The Bishop sang, slightly hesitantly and the choir of young people and adults, singing in four real parts, made a splendid sound - helped, of course, by an amazingly generous acoustic! The organ improvisations at the gospel procession (with alleluias fitting to the first line of the tune Forest Green!) and at the offertory, and during communion, were understated and totally amazing! I am used to wonderful improvisations from my time in Birmingham and these were equally as good. The Grande orgue sounded magnificent and accompanied the whole Mass. Seemingly the orgue de choeur, that I remember our member pcnd hated so much, has been removed during the renovations of the choir. And, at the end of Mass we had a French hymn to the tune Adeste fideles - complete with Willcocks descant that was thundered out by the top line of the choir! - followed by an improvisation on the tune!

If you're passing I would recommend it! It's not an English cathedral - it's very French - but I came out of church feeling a lot better than when I went in!! What will I remember in six months time - the power of the descants and the organ improvisations - oh, and the eight foot tall Bishop!!!! 

 

http://orguesfrance.com/ChartresCathedrale.html

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On 14/01/2020 at 13:45, SomeChap said:

Has the new paint-job changed the acoustics do you think?  What do the locals think of it (it's highly controversial if anyone doesn't know)?

I can't answer that because I can't remember what it was like before!!

The place, of course, is vast, it is enormous! And the restoration is hugely controversial! My first encounter with the restoration was when my daughter travelled to see me about four years ago, stopping at Chartres on her way down here. "English Heritage would have a fit!!" she said. And she is right. The choir looks totally amazing but I'm not sure it is in keeping with a medieval cathedral or with restoration techniques as understood in the UK. The external part of the choir, the stone carved scenes, are nearly finished and seem to be being painted rather than having the grim and dirt blasted off! I may be wrong here! Of course the French do paint on top of stone. I know of another 'World Heritage site' where the walls have been plastered and red lines painted on to simulate the edges of stone!! True - imagine English Heritage allowing this!

As to the acoustics! The place is noisy. Dr. Colin has mentioned the very different attitude of continentals towards ecclesiastics. There are signs asking the public not to walk around during services but they are, largely, ignored! The Grande Messe is celebrated from the Nave Altar under the central space at the crossing. The choir sit in the choir. The  orgue de Choeur which, of course, would traditionally accompany them, doesn't seem to exist any more. I remember pcnd, and if I have got this wrong I apologise to him, being quite vitriolic about the instrument. I think he described it as the worst instrument he had ever played! All accompaniment comes from the Grande Orgue which hangs high on the south wall of the nave just by the crossing. The organist sits inside the instrument. I can't imagine what, if anything, he can hear up there but he has an array of TV cameras to assist him.  Even accompanying plainsong could be a problem and also hymns too without considerable expertise of the instrument and knowing the acoustics of the building. Accompanying, for instance, a Mozart Mass, would, I imagine, be next to impossible. Nothing in my musicianship tells me how it could be successfully done!

For those interested there are a number of YouTube videos of Patrick Delabre, the titulaire, talking (in French!) and playing the instrument he has presided over since 1986.

I return to my home on the 26th and have an invitation to spend the 'Grand Messe' in the tribune that morning. Perhaps I can better answer your question, somechap, then!

 

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On 16/01/2020 at 06:42, S_L said:

 The  orgue de Choeur which, of course, would traditionally accompany them, doesn't seem to exist any more. I remember pcnd, and if I have got this wrong I apologise to him, being quite vitriolic about the instrument. I think he described it as the worst instrument he had ever played! All accompaniment comes from the Grande Orgue which hangs high on the south wall of the nave just by the crossing.

 

No, SL - you are quite correct. It was, quite simply, execrable. The concert in which I played was video recorded, so I know that it was not my faulty memory. (It formerly occupied 'boxes' dispersed behind the choir-stalls. These boxes looked like nothing so much as a set of coal bunkers.)

I was most interested to read your account of the service which you attended - it sounds fabulous. I should love to have heard this, particularly the organ improvisations, but also the excellent choir.

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Just stumbled across this pic - it's the only one I've so far seen of the grand organ of Chartres since the paint-job, hope it's of interest:

6c625ad1e9279783131b719f8084891b.jpg&f=1

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A very interesting picture.  Has the organ also received some ‘paint’?  Some of the pipes now look as though they may be gilt, but it could be a lighting effect.  S_L will doubtless be able to say.  

I’m sure I have seen a photograph which includes the “coal-bunker” Orgue de Choeur as mentioned by pcnd5584, but can’t currently track it down.  

I possess a book on the cathedrals of France by T Francis Bumpus (1905) which contains a chapter “A Sunday in Chartres”. In somewhat flowery language he describes “The silver pipes of the great organ, by and by to pour forth its voice in the showy Interlude or Offertorium, gleam out from the sombre heights of the clerestory, where, as at Metz and Strasburg (sic), it is disposed with such grand effect”.  

Liturgists would be fascinated by his description of the Capitular High Mass, and such archaic (?) happenings as the host (Bumpus says “bread”) being distributed at Communion by choristers from baskets, some of the faithful taking it home to consume later (now totally forbidden, I believe), and afterwards, ‘Papa’ appearing in cassock and surplice bearing a trombone to accompany one of the minor services.  (This evocative piece of history runs to 14 pages, so this is necessarily the briefest summary.)

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On 21/01/2020 at 11:05, Rowland Wateridge said:

A very interesting picture.  Has the organ also received some ‘paint’?  Some of the pipes now look as though they may be gilt, but it could be a lighting effect.  S_L will doubtless be able to say.  

I’m sure I have seen a photograph which includes the “coal-bunker” Orgue du Choeur as mentioned by pcnd5584, but can’t currently track it down.  

I possess a book on the cathedrals of France by T Francis Bumpus (1905) which contains a chapter “A Sunday in Chartres”. In somewhat flowery language he describes “The silver pipes of the great organ, by and by to pour forth its voice in the showy Interlude or Offertorium, gleam out from the sombre heights of the clerestory, where, as at Metz and Strasburg (sic), it is disposed with such grand effect”.  

Liturgists would be fascinated by his description of the Capitular High Mass, and such archaic (?) happenings as the host (Bumpus says “bread”) being distributed at Communion by choristers from baskets, some of the faithful taking it home to consume later (now totally forbidden, I believe), and afterwards, ‘Papa’ appearing in cassock and surplice bearing a trombone to accompany one of the minor services.  (This evocative piece of history runs to 14 pages, so this is necessarily the briefest summary.)

To my knowledge the organ hasn't received any paint! And any work to be done on the organ would come from a different department from any work to be done in the cathedral.

Perhaps the orgue de choeur is still there - but I couldn't see it - I shall ask, if I remember, on Sunday when I revisit.

Your book sounds wonderful and I would love to read it! Choir boys distributing the 'bread' from baskets is outside of my experience and you are right, it is, now, totally forbidden to keep the sacred host for consumption at a later time. Bur 'Papa' appearing in Cassock and Surplice with a trombone to accompany a minor office is classic!!!

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“Summer Holidays among the Glories of Northern France her Cathedrals and Churches”, London E T W Dennis & Sons Ltd, 1905; 243 pages and 110 photographic plates.  There are some available from Amazon and eBay, and I suspect it would turn up in antiquarian bookshops.  There are modern facsimiles, but I don’t know whether they include the photographs or, if they do, how well.  

As well as the Cathedrals and Churches, Bumpus paints a vivid picture of French rural life pre-WW I (I think, it’s mostly 19th Century).  It’s certainly pre-motor age and, e.g., he travels by horse and carriage in Paris, and the photograph of the west front of Rouen Cathedral is almost a hay wain scene.  The descriptions of services and participants are fascinating - an organ misbehaving badly, the priest-organist purple with embarrassment, while the Canons sit impassively ignoring it completely!; a “diaphanous” procession for a Guild Service at Chartres including “two or three hundred veiled girls”; being shown Thomas à Becket’s mitre at Pontigny; altar boys firing matches at each other; and many more such vignettes - all, I suspect, a very different picture from present-day France.

 

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20 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

Liturgists would be fascinated by his description of the Capitular High Mass, and such archaic (?) happenings as the host (Bumpus says “bread”) being distributed at Communion by choristers from baskets, some of the faithful taking it home to consume later (now totally forbidden, I believe)

More likely to be pain bénit than the Eucharistic Host:

The little loaves or cakes of bread which received a special benediction and were then sent by bishops and priests to others, as gifts in sign of fraternal affection and ecclesiastical communion were also called eulogiae. Persons to whom the eulogia was refused were considered outside the communion of the faithful, and thus bishops sometimes sent it to an excommunicated person to indicate that the censure had been removed. Later, when the faithful no longer furnished the altar-bread, a custom arose of bringing bread to the church for the special purpose of having it blessed and distributed among those present as token of mutual love and union, and this custom still exists in the Western Church, especially in France. This blessed bread was called panis benedictus, panis lustratus, panis lustralis, and is now known in France as pain bénit. It differs from the eulogia mentioned above, because it is not a part of the oblation from which the particle to be consecrated in the Mass is selected, but rather is common bread which receives a special benediction. In many places it is the custom for each family in turn to present the bread on Sundays and feast days, while in other places only the wealthier families furnish it. Generally the bread is presented with some solemnity at the Offertory of the parochial Mass, and the priest blesses it before the Oblation of the Host and Chalice, but different customs exist in different dioceses. The prayer ordinarily used for the blessing is the first or second: benedictio panis printed in the Roman missal and ritual. The faithful were exhorted to partake of it in the church, but frequently it was carried home. 

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02749a.htm

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8 hours ago, Dafydd y Garreg Wen said:

More likely to be pain bénit than the Eucharistic Host:

You are, indeed, correct.  With a musical reference at the end, I quote these extracts on the subject from Francis Bumpus:

”The next excitement is the distribution of the pain bénit, handed round by a capped and gowned verger, followed by a rather sulky-looking chorister, forming a procession of two.  We all take a small piece.  Some, I observe, eat it at once, first crossing themselves with it; others place it on the chair-ledge in front of them to take home afterwards  ...  ...   All this time a very grand Offertorium - Lemmens’ Marche Triomphale - is played  upon the great organ ... “

Bumpus was in Chartres on Sunday August 6th, the Festival of Our Lord’s Transfiguration.  Incidentally, he records just before the distribution having been charged dix centimes for the use of a prie-dieu.

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In the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, this blessed bread is referred to as the Antidoron.

Paul

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9 hours ago, pwhodges said:

In the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, this blessed bread is referred to as the Antidoron.

Paul

This is correct!

I don't normally recommend Wikipedia but you can read about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antidoron 

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