"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
June 24, 2013
Chartres Cathedral and the Book of Mormon
by Lawrence Jeppson

Paris visitors rightly awe at the beautiful rose window of Notre Dame Cathedral. Many do not know that one of the two most beautiful uses of stained glass is in the Sainte Chapelle, only a few hundred meters away on the same island as Notre Dame.

La Sainte Chapelle, Paris 13th-Century windows

The other greatest place to see the Middle Ages art form is in the Cathedral of Chartres, about 50 miles from Paris. Some consider this the most beautiful of all Gothic cathedrals.

Sainte Chapelle is not far from the courtrooms and judicial offices I have written about in two earlier columns. Commissioned by King Louis IX to house his collection of Passion Relics, including Christ’s supposed crown of thorns, it was consecrated in 1248.

La Sainte Chapelle, Paris. Another view

The building originally known as the Palais de la Cité is now known as La Conciergerie. The chapel occupies the towering space above the ground floor. Set in its walls is most breathtaking collection of 13th-century glass anywhere in the world.

About 50 miles southwest of Paris, the Chartres Cathedral was largely completed by 1250, putting its soaring stained glass windows in the same period as the King’s Holy Chapel in Paris. Its windows are equally impressive and have survived for more than 750 years.

Just before World War II, the windows were removed for safekeeping. During the Liberation Allied intelligence reported the cathedral was being used as a German observation post, and American bombers were planning to bomb it. Colonel Welborn Griffith questioned the plan and volunteered to go behind enemy lines with a single enlisted soldier. They discovered the Germans were not using the cathedral. Bombing plans were cancelled.

I have seen the Chartres stained glass windows on three or four occasions. The first and last times, decades apart, are indelibly engraved in my memory.

The Rose Window, Chartres Cathedral

At the end of World War II there was a tremendous surge of mature, discharged veterans eager to accept mission calls. Their church service had been delayed by military service.

Closed European missions were reopened. Mission presidents were called, and they had incredible work to do before they could begin receiving elders and sisters. The missionary force they got was older, experienced in the world, and seasoned.

Because of unusual circumstances, when I arrived in Paris five months after my 22nd birthday, I was a veteran of 2 ½ years in the United States Army, had completed five years of college credit, and had graduated from the University of Utah. Many of my fellow veterans took mission calls before going for their college degrees.

In time, many from the French Mission would have distinguished careers in medicine, business, education, and science. They became mission presidents, from Europe to Canada to Tahiti, and filled many other church callings at all levels. One of us, James Paramore, became a President of the Seventy.

In later times, with so many thousands of elders and sisters in many more missions, there is an indispensable need for structure, rules, procedures, and management, lest resources and people be wasted. In those post-WWII days there was no language training, no set procedures or courses for proselyting or teaching. We had to wing it, relying on the Spirit for guidance.

Fortunately, the French Mission had great presidents, first James L. Barker, who opened it; then Golden Woolf, who built on the foundation using a missionary force that was slowly becoming younger and more traditional.

Under Barker, the French Mission began publishing a monthly magazine, l’Etoile (the Star). It was edited at mission headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, but it was printed in Liège, Belgium by a small printer whose wife was a member of the Church.

After about ten months divided among Béziers, Lyon, and Paris, I was transferred by Pres. Barker to Liège to take over that end of the magazine operation. I had been in the first class to graduate from the University of Utah’s new journalism department, and I had been Wednesday editor of the Daily Utah Chronicle. I had declined the opportunity to become city editor of a Nevada newspaper in order to return to Reno and ask my bishop to call me on a mission.

Geneva sent me the French typescripts for magazine articles. I laid out the magazine, wrote the headlines, worked with the printer, and mailed the printed magazines to subscribers. When the sister in Geneva who was serving as editor was released, President Woolf transferred me to Geneva, where I took over the entire production.

With the President’s approval, I selected or wrote every article, obtained translations into French (usually using Prof. Charles Cestre of the Sorbonne in Paris, an old Barker friend), typed out the translations, had a former mayor of Geneva proofread the copy, and laid out the magazine and typography.

I wrote Salt Lake asking for a few photographs I needed for the magazine and received help from the head of the church’s Mission Literature head, Gordon B. Hinckley. (As my mission ended he wrote that if I got to Salt Lake please come see him about the possibility of my going to work for him. I did pass through Salt Lake, but he was out of town. Anyhow, I had already been accepted for graduate work at Boston University.)

The Book of Mormon had been translated into French by Louis Bertrand and published in 1851. Bertrand had been editor of a political newspaper. He had also worked in New Orleans. Back in France he would have been the first person baptized by John Taylor and Curtis Bolton after they opened the mission, but a woman who was older than Louis was baptized in the same ceremony because of her seniority.

The Bertrand translation was a good translation, and it served France and the French parts of Belgium and Switzerland for a century. The last time it had been printed was sometime before WWII, and the mission’s supply of the books was becoming dangerously low. It needed to be reprinted. The project was far beyond the capability of the printer in Liège. Besides, I was becoming increasingly displeased with that printshop.

President Woolf asked me to find a printer. So I went off alone, fending for myself — something that would never do nowadays — from Geneva to Paris to find a reliable book printer.

Newspapers frequently do job printing. I went to see an editor of the International Herald Tribune, the English newspaper published in Paris but read all over Europe.

He gave some names.

I eventually recommended a printer in the tight, old streets of the Left Bank Latin Quarter. I was sufficiently impressed by this operation that I transferred the printing of l’Etoile from Belgium to Paris.

Before making that choice, however, I checked out another name on the list. I took a train ride to see a printer in Chartres.

On a bright, sunshiny day for the first time I saw the stained glass windows of the Cathedral! One does not forget such a sublime experience.

Some of the 13th-Century stained glass windows in the Chartres Cathedral

Decades later Jay and Marcelle Welch were called to head the genealogical program in France — teaching people how to do research, looking for records, setting up libraries. Jay and I bonded in the first weeks of my mission when he led a quartet of singing missionaries on a concert tour.

Later we served in Lyon at the same time. Marcelle worked in Paris for the U.S. Graves Registration Service; so she and I, too, were old friends.

I came to Paris during their mission. They had learned there was a non-member in Chartres that had compiled extensive genealogical records, which they wanted to photograph. Jay and Marcelle invited me to spend the day with them and search for this woman.

Being with Jay was always an adventure, in the best way.

The day was heavily overcast and drizzly.

The three of us entered the cathedral expecting to be disappointed because of the weather. We were overwhelmed. The light through the stained glass was indeed different, but it made the windows beautiful in a different way!

We were so impressed that we decided Chartres was best seen on a dreary day.

That was the last time I saw those glorious windows.

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About Lawrence Jeppson

Lawrence Jeppson is an art consultant, organizer and curator of art exhibitions, writer, editor and publisher, lecturer, art historian, and appraiser. He is America's leading authority on modern, handwoven French tapestries. He is expert on the works of William Henry Clapp, Nat Leeb, Tsing-fang Chen, and several French artists.

He is founding president of the non-profit Mathieu Matégot Foundation for Contemporary Tapestry, whose purview encompasses all 20th-century tapestry, an interest that traces back to 1948. For many years he represented the Association des Peintres-Cartonniers de Tapisserie and Arelis in America.

Through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the American Federation of Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, and his own Art Circuit Services he has been a contributor to or organizer of more than 200 art exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Japan, and Taiwan. He owns AcroEditions, which publishes and/or distributes multiple-original art. He was co-founder and artistic director of Collectors' Investment Fund.

He is the director of the Spring Arts Foundation; Utah Cultural Arts Foundation, and the Fine Arts Legacy Foundation

Lawrence is an early-in-the-month home teacher, whose beat is by elevator. In addition, he has spent the past six years hosting and promoting reunions of the missionaries who served in the French Mission (France, Belgium, and Switzerland) during the decade after WWII.

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