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October 03, 2022

Chartres Cathedral

In August 1944, a colonel in the US Army named Welborn Barton Griffith risked his life to save a cathedral in Chartres, France. The army believed that German snipers were hiding in the towers of Chartres Cathedral. Orders came down to shell the building. The colonel, at great danger to himself, searched the cathedral and climbed the towers. Finding no German soldiers, he had the order revoked. What was it about this cathedral that made it important enough for an army colonel to risk his life? The cathedral was completed around 1260, during a great era of church construction in medieval France. The small community of Chartres, about 50 miles from Paris, built what was, at the time, the broadest and tallest structure ever erected in the Christian West. Pilgrims visiting the cathedral could see its steeple from over six miles away. But the crowning glory of the cathedral would be its stained glass. Master craftsmen produced 176 windows—enough to cover half a football field. The windows illustrate scenes from the Bible in blazing colors. Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, the parable of the good Samaritan, the crucifixion of Jesus. Even those who could not read could learn the Bible stories from the stained glass windows in this cathedral. After saving the cathedral, Colonel Griffith re-joined his fellow soldiers. Sadly, he was killed in battle. But thanks to his courage, the cathedral remains as an enduring testament to the Bible-inspired artistry and engineering of medieval Europe.

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