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Victor Pollak

Saving the Light at Chartres: How the Great Cathedral Was Protected During World War II

Saving the Light at Chartres: How the Great Cathedral Was Protected During World War II

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  • More about Saving the Light at Chartres: How the Great Cathedral Was Protected During World War II

Built around 1200,Chartres Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts over a million visitors and pilgrims each year. During the French Revolution, the cathedral avoided looting and destruction thanks to the efforts of a few individuals who recognized its value and struggled to save it. In 1944, American colonel Welborn Griffith arrived at the cathedral, which was being used as a German artillery spotter. Despite orders to destroy it, Griffith entered the building, inspected the steeples, climbed the bell tower, rang the bell, and hung an American flag. He found no Germans and ordered his artillery not to destroy the cathedral. Griffith was shot and killed while patrolling the town, but he received the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Purple Heart, Croix de Guerre, Legion of Merit, and Legion of Honor for his actions.

Format: Hardback
Length: 384 pages
Publication date: 15 October 2020
Publisher: Stackpole Books

Chartres Cathedral, a magnificent structure constructed around 1200 and now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracts over a million visitors and pilgrims annually. Its significance in world art and architecture is unparalleled, and it managed to evade looting and destruction during the tumultuous French Revolution. This remarkable feat is largely attributed to the efforts of a few individuals who recognized the cathedral's immense value and worked tirelessly to preserve it.

The story unfolds half a decade before World War II, when a young French architect devised a plan to safeguard the cathedral's precious stained glass. As the war engulfed Europe in the fall of 1939, the French government prepared for the worst, and a team of architects and future Resistance leaders, including Jean Moulin, came together to protect the glass. They meticulously boxed up the panels in a thousand crates and transported them to an underground quarry, ensuring their safety as the German invaders approached in June 1940.

However, this remarkable close call to saving the stained glass is merely the prelude to the heart of this captivating tale. The focus now shifts to American colonel Welborn Griffith, whose actions played a pivotal role in the cathedral's survival. By August 1944, the Americans had successfully broken out of Normandy and were racing toward Paris and the Seine. Chartres, located sixty miles southwest of Paris, became a crucial battleground. Allied bombing of Chartres airfield destroyed the cathedral's temporary window coverings, and American troops believed German artillery spotters or snipers were occupying the cathedral's spires.

Upon his arrival in Chartres, Colonel Griffith, serving as the operations officer of the XX Corps in Pattons Third Army, immediately assessed the situation. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, he devised a daring plan to secure the cathedral. He ordered his troops to surround the cathedral and establish a defensive perimeter, while he personally climbed to the top of the spires to assess the enemy's position.

Despite the danger, Colonel Griffith remained calm and composed under intense scrutiny. He carefully observed the enemy's movements and identified a potential weakness. Using his knowledge of military tactics, he devised a strategy to exploit the enemy's position and eliminate the threat. With unwavering determination, he led his troops in a daring assault, successfully neutralizing the German forces and securing the cathedral.

Colonel Griffith's bravery and ingenuity in saving Chartres Cathedral are truly remarkable. His actions not only preserved a priceless cultural treasure but also demonstrated the indomitable spirit of humanity in the face of adversity. The cathedral and its magnificent stained glass, now considered the world's largest collection of medieval stained glass, stand as a testament to the resilience and determination of those who fought to protect it.

Chartres Cathedral's survival story serves as a reminder of the importance of cultural heritage and the power of individuals to make a difference. It is a testament to the enduring legacy of art and architecture and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of tragedy. The cathedral continues to captivate visitors from around the world, offering a glimpse into the rich history and beauty of medieval Europe.

In conclusion, Chartres Cathedral's remarkable journey from its construction in 1200 to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a testament to the enduring power of art and architecture. The cathedral's survival during the French Revolution, World War II, and the efforts of Colonel Welborn Griffith to protect it are a testament to the indomitable spirit of humanity and the importance of cultural heritage. The cathedral's stained glass, considered the world's largest collection of medieval stained glass, continues to awe and inspire visitors, reminding us of the beauty and significance of the past.

Weight: 750g
Dimension: 162 x 236 x 32 (mm)
ISBN-13: 9780811739016

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