University of Pittsburgh
October 20, 2005

Pitt Unveils Web Site That Includes More Than 3,000 Images of Chartres Cathedral


Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH-Detailed images of soaring aisles, delicate carvings, and stained-glass windows from the 12th and 13th centuries are captured on a new University of Pittsburgh Web site,, documenting the famous French Cathedral of Chartres (11th-16th centuries), located approximately 50 miles southwest of Paris.

A joint project of the University's Digital Research Library (DRL) and Pitt Professor of Art History Alison Stones, the new Web site provides access to more than 3,000 high-resolution images of Chartres Cathedral, each accompanied by descriptive information. Users can zoom in to examine intricate details of the cathedral's High Gothic style of architecture, the sculpture of its three major portals, the stained-glass windows depicting stories of the Old and New Testaments and the Lives of the Saints, the fragmentary wall paintings, and the illuminations from two historic manuscripts used at the cathedral. (The library at Chartres was bombed by friendly fire in World War II, reducing most of its holdings to charred remains.)

Although the image collection was originally designed and partially funded by a University grant from the Office of the Provost to directly support Stones' teaching in her medieval art and architectural classes, the Web site is available to anyone interested in studying this magnificent monument. Moreover, Stones hopes that the Web site will greatly impact her field of study. "There is no substitute for on-site study, but good, comprehensive Web coverage is essential for preparation and for follow-up. Books simply never include enough images for monuments to be fully comprehensible," she said.

The thousands of images amassed by Stones primarily represent photographs she and her collaborators took of the cathedral during many visits to France, most recently during a summer course taught on-site in May 2005. The images offer a compelling and comprehensive look at the rich architectural style of the cathedral and its fascinating history. Medieval pilgrims journeyed to the cathedral to view a precious relic known as the Veil of the Virgin, a strip of cloth believed to have been worn by the Virgin Mary at the Nativity of Christ. Traditionally thought to have been a gift from the French King Charles the Bald (823-877), the veil has been housed since the 10th century at a Chartres cathedral. The present cathedral primarily dates from the 11th to 16th centuries, with the major building campaigns occurring in the 12th and 13th centuries. The cathedral has been restored several times; the most recent cleaning is under way today, so parts of the clerestory glass and some of the sculptures were unavailable to be photographed for the project.

Though there are several dozen Web sites on Chartres, Pitt's site is especially comprehensive. The zoom feature reveals tiny details of the figures and motifs in the windows and sculptures and on elements of tracery, moldings, and masonry in the architecture. Keyword searches can be performed over the descriptions that accompany each image.

"We have equipped Dr. Stones with an unprecedented collection of images to support her teaching and instruction," said Ed Galloway, DRL coordinator, adding that it represents the largest image collection DRL has hosted. "Further, students at Pitt and elsewhere now have convenient access to a critical mass of images to further their understanding and research on Chartres."

The Rector of Chartres Cathedral and the librarians of the Bibliothèque Municipale de Chartres and the Bibliothèque Municipale d'Orléans gave permission for the project team to photograph and mount these images.