The city of Chartres is just over an hour away from Paris by train, making it the perfect weekend getaway. Chartres is famous for many things. Its world famous cathedral, recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The famous Chartres blue of the stained glass windows, which legend says no one has been able to replicate since the Middle Ages. And Jean Moulin, the famous French Resistance fighter who was the Prefect of Chartres at the time of the German invasion in 1940. For myself, I mostly knew Chartres from its famous light show that is held every summer. I had heard about this illumination spectacular for years, but never seemed to have a free weekend to go. This year, I finally made it happen, and after experiencing Chartres en Lumières in person, I’m pretty sure this is the start of a new annual tradition.
Chartres en Lumières is produced by the city of Chartres to recognize and promote the many heritage sites of the city. The first edition was produced in 2002, and it has since grown to be one of the city’s most popular events. Many cities across France produce light shows on their cathedrals, but Chartres takes it to a whole new level. This year, 24 sites across the city are illuminated every night, starting at dusk. The event is free to enjoy on a self-guided visit, but there is also the option of taking a tourist train around to all the major sites. Naturally, I had to take the train.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how to describe the joy of trundling through the old town of a French city, stopping every few minutes to take in another beautiful light display. Many of them were set to music, but others simply just were, silently illuminating their surroundings. Several sites were located along the Eure River that cuts through the city, creating a reflection effect that was simply stunning. Other displays only served to enhance the architecture of the buildings, giving them an almost eerie presence.
However, the highlight by far was the show that was projected onto the main facade of the cathedral. Neither words nor pictures can do justice to the incredible artistry that was on display. This year’s show told the story of Chartres, from its humble beginnings, to a theoretical look into the future. I’ve seen light projection shows in the past, but I had never seen anything like this. The sheer precision of the projections alone was impressive enough. But put together with the music, the imagery, and the lighting effects, it was nothing short of extraordinary. I may have watched the whole show through multiple times. On both nights.
Chartres en Lumières is typically a summer event, but this year its start was delayed due to COVID-19. To make up for it, Chartres en Lumieres is now running straight through to January 3rd, 2021. In other words, you have plenty of time to see this incredible show. It will be a magical evening, I promise.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.