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2018 Chartres Cathedral Malcolm Miller update

Here are things to know about Malcolm Miller's behavior in 2018.
No matter what Rick says, no matter what the signs posted outside the bookstore in Chartres Cathedral say, no matter what anyone who works for the cathedral organization (diocese, &c.) says, there is no ready way to predict his "tours" or "lectures." We attended one in 2006, and so much enjoyed it that we wanted to attend another one. We stayed 3 days/nights in the hope of accomplishing it. We did accomplish a tour with Anne-Marie Woods (worthwhile, but that's not the topic here), and on our second unsuccessful attempt, since we had arrived at 1201 on the day of our first unsuccessful attempt, we arrived at 1140. By 1205 we two and two Canadians and an eavesdropper were discussing the Canadians' dissatisfaction with having traveled from Paris this morning for his tour, canceled without notice. Just then, Malcolm Miller walked by. During the ensuing discussion, he mentioned his age, and said, « Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I just don't feel like doing one. » Yet, yesterday afternoon we saw him giving a tour to 107 [sic] choristers.
A 2018 guide to his tours ought to say:
1. Don't count on anything, but you might be lucky.
2. If you are making a special trip to hear him speak, there is a strong likelihood you will be disappointed. Make a well thought out alternate plan in case he does not have a tour / lecture when you expect it.
3. If it's really important to you, use social media or other methods you prefer to assemble 20 or 30 or better 50 people and arrange a "private" lecture / tour at an odd time, such as 1330 or 1530, and make the arrangements long in advance by email. Consider claiming your group could have some connection to the cathedral: "impromptu lovers of stained glass," "medieval sculpture club," "North American sacred kazoo ensemble."

Malcolm Miller says he did not train Anne-Marie Woods, and that she works for the cathedral organization. She gives very good tours, so I'm not sure why this matters. Perhaps his Rickness's use of the word protegé in his book(s) has a different meaning for Rick, and Mr. Miller wants to set the record straight (my speculation, that things be clear). Also, some of the chaos surrounding Malcolm Miller's day to day relationship with the cathedral and its personnel stem from the fact that it doesn't exist. He's famous, he's there, but it's not official.

A bit of off topic editorializing follows ••••• Remember, your best bet if you are asking a French person any question which might provoke him or her to an exertion of misapplied perceived authority is to make a plea for "an exceptional case," or "un cas ou le cas exceptionel." At times it can seem France as a country is an exertion of misapplied perceived authority, but the secret to know is they love to break the rules, but only when a justification, however far-fetched, can be offered.

Posted by
2722 posts

Malcolm can be a lesson in frustration. And stubbornness. A few years back he was charging €10 per person and required a minimum of 8 participants. When my friend and I waited patiently after visiting Chartres specifically for one of his tours, there were only 6 takers. He milled around for a few minutes and announced that the tour was cancelled because of being 2 folks short. The six of us offered to make up the difference in lost revenue but he just couldn’t be bothered. Told us to buy a guide book in the shop and left. He might give great talks but to us he was a crotchety Royal pain in the ...

Posted by
4125 posts

You left out one thing you can do to improve your odds of catching a tour with Mr. Miller: Ask him what his plans are in advance.

For a trip two years ago, I sent him a short courteous email 2 days before and got a short courteous reply: he would offer only the noon tour on the day I asked about, if enough people showed up. Which they did; it helps that we were visiting in June to be sure.

Posted by
16883 posts

To clarify, on Unsuccessful Attempts Numbers 1 & 2, were there at least 12 potential customers waiting? That's the minimum I see in Rick's France 2018.

Posted by
2722 posts

Laura, the trip I referred to was in 2012. At that time, only 8 folks were required. I had visited the Cathedral a few years earlier and have been back since didn’t bother trying for another disappointment.

Posted by
55 posts

Laura, if I am the one to whom you are posing your question, on unsuccessful attempt number 1, two days ago, we saw no people at all at 12:01. Unsuccessful attempt number 2 is the one I describe involving the two Canadians. I read above that Rick says 12 persons are required, but the sign that is posted in the cathedral outside the gift shop says 10. We might even try again today. I asked him yesterday if there would be one today and he said no, but who knows what that means?

Posted by
546 posts

Those of you with issues with mr. Miller should post these comment in the guidebook feedback section. Maybe he will be removed from the books. It certainly sounds as if he should.

Just as an aside no matter how great the history or Mr. Millers talks about it the absolute best thing I saw in Chartres was the sound and light show on the Cathedral. It was one of the most stunning things I have witnessed and is a work of art in itself. If you are going to Chartres. Spend the night and see the light show. It starts at 9:45.

Posted by
2013 posts

Malcolm Miller is not French, he is from the UK. He visited the cathedral many years ago and simply stayed in Chartres. I am not going to speculate specifically on his age but all things considered, he shows remarkable energy for someone who has been lecturing on a single subject for decades.

I enjoy his tours but Malcolm Miller should not be the reason one travels to Chartres, that should be for seeing one of the architectural marvels of the 13th century.

Posted by
1761 posts

I’m very sorry to read this report on Malcolm Miller. We visited Chartres in 2014 and really enjoyed his tour. Mr. Miller dedicated his life to sharing his knowledge with others, everybody gets old. As suggested in Rick’s book, I’d contact him personally to set up an appointment.

PS - The illumination/light show was amazing!

Posted by
3385 posts

We were fortunate to have a positive experience in Chartes with Malcolm Miller
on our RS Loire to the South of France Tour 2013. Can't speak to the current experiences. Mr. Miller's presentation was one of the highlights of Chartes. I still remember all the details of the interior as well as the facade of the Cathedral. We did buy his book. In addition, Chartes has so much to offer. The wow factor of seeing the Cathedral light show 2 nights was something we will always treasure. Memorable cuisine, views of the Cathedral, and overall charm of Chartes will never be forgotten.

Posted by
1120 posts

The last time I saw Mr. Miller was in 2012---I sent an email in advance asking if he would be present and he replied very kindly.

His tour was nothing short of fantastic----and at the same time I pitied him because some of the people on the tour ask the most inane questions (I specifically remember one man asking questions about the Bible that were irrelevant).

If you get lucky and are able to see him, it certainly is not a waste of time.

Posted by
113 posts

Malcolm Miller has been at Chartres for 60+ years so he’s in his 80s by now. As amazing as his tours are (I saw him in ‘85 and was forever hooked!) I’m not surprised he’s slowing down and getting choosy about when he wants to give tours. By all rights, he should be retired & enjoying his later years. I’d suggest you hope for the best if you go, but have a Plan B.

Posted by
8412 posts

If he gave a tour to 107 people the preceding day, no wonder he was too wiped out. A suggestion to avoid disappointment , buy a good guidebook like the Michelin green to guide you, but if you stumble upon Mr. Miller on a day he is well and energetic and giving tours, it’s icing on the cake. I don’t know how he’s managed to keep going this long.

Edit: your first two suggestions are very good for anyone. Your use of the word behavior in "Malcolm Miller's behavior" belies your disappointment but is out of place for a man who started giving these tours in 1958, sixty years ago. It's too bad you are having such a difficult time with him and with "France as a country of is an exertion of misapplied perceived authority." What you might not be picking up on is the little liens that are woven between the person with the authority and the person asking for the exception. In French, it's called "complicité" and it's an important part of French culture--two people working together to make an exception or get something done. Just say "merci, c'est très gentil" and smile.

Posted by
855 posts

We were on a RS tour in late fall 2016 that started in Chartres. I was looking forward to Mr. Miller's talk and was not disappointed. But, I'm sure the RS tour department had made arrangements with him.

I was disappointed that the light show was not taking place. It was explained to us that it doesn't take place over the winter, so we missed it by a week. We still enjoyed Chartres.
Maybe next time.

Posted by
11857 posts

Interesting. I would have loved to have seen one of his tours but I'm naturally not a schedule person. I went to the Cathedral when it worked for me and didn't try to get there at a certain time.

So true about the French. There seems to be a rule for everything, both regarding laws and socially acceptable. With the French there is also an exception to every rule and there seems to be a respected art form of breaking rules.

Posted by
3194 posts

Agree with Lisa-everyone is entitled to take it easier as they get older. How many of us will still be working like that when we're his age? Not me! We were fortunate to be able to take his tour in 2015, but his book is very helpful. Summer light show really adds to the experience.

Posted by
14930 posts

I have a copy of his book which I bought and he autographed after I took his tour in 1997. According to the blurb, he "was born in Stourbridge, England and educated at King Edward VI School, Birmingham and at the University of Durham, where he obtained an Honours degree in French. He first came to Chartres in 1956 to teach English at the Lycee Marceau whilst writing a dissertation on Chartres Cathedral for his degree. He began guiding at the cathedral in 1958 . . . "

If he was about 20 in 1956 . . .

Posted by
2272 posts

We were in Chartres last June, and took a tour, not with Mr. Miller, but with Ann-Marie (possibly). Our tour had 20. We saw the Miller tour - it had many many more. So, if you do go on the tour with Mr. Miller, it might be quite crowded.

Posted by
86 posts

I just arrived back in Paris from Chartres. We emailed Mr. Miller last evening inquiring about a tour. He replied quickly confirming that he would be giving a tour at 12 noon. He told us where to meet and when. We arrived at the Cathedral just before noon. There were about 15 people waiting for the tour. Mr. Miller arrived on time and was in fine form. He admitted that at 85 he has slowed down, but he had already given a tour to a group of students in the morning, - so not that slow. The tour lasted for 1.5 hours and was excellent - now the point to note is that Mr. Miller's love and expertise has truly developed around the incredible stained glass of the Cathedral - so much of the tour was focused on that. He did discuss the building and the development of Gothic and we looked at the statuary on the North porch - but the bulk of the tour was focused on the glass. This is my 3rd visit to Chartres Cathedral and Mr. Miller's knowledge and love of the place added to my experience of this amazing place.

Posted by
1120 posts

Thanks for the update! I will be in Chartres in 24 hours (waiting to board in ATL) .