The Consolidation of the Amiens Cathedral

Notre-Dame d’Amiens
Amiens, France
49°53′42″N 2°18′08″E
1915

The First World War ravaged the French territory. Many cities were drowned under the bombardments and several monuments were destroyed or threatened. It was the case of the Amiens Cathedral which was protected thanks to an ingenious saving intervention.

A cathedral threatened since the first hours of the war

The bombings of the First World War disfigured many French cities and the cultural and religious heritage was greatly impacted. Already damaged by several shells, the Cathedral of Reims suffered a fire in 1914 that largely destroyed it. When the Germans arrived at the gates of Amiens, in the spring of the same year, the same scenario seemed to await the Amiens Cathedral. The city had already been heavily bombed, Notre-Dame d’Amiens had a perforated framework, the stones were scarred by the surrounding explosions. Albert London discovered it isolated in the middle of the ruins of the city and wrote “She is standing, but sluggish”. 

A campaign to safeguard the national heritage

As early as 1915, the French government took the measure of the coming disaster. The organ was dismantled, as were the stained glass windows. These were sent to another town, Eu in Normandy, but a domestic fire destroyed some of them. Sandbags were put in place. Originally they were flour bags made by the spinning mills of the Moulins Bleus, jute bags filled with earth. They cover the gates on the outside but also come to support the cathedral from the inside. These sandbags are the same ones that protected the French troops in their trenches. In the cathedral they ensure the protection of the historical monument as well as the protection of the population that comes to take refuge there in case of bombardment.
The piles of earth sacks are 10 meters high and come along the pillars like a formwork. The cathedral was thus able to fulfill its role as a physical and spiritual refuge during the First World War. Nevertheless, it was about to suffer a final blow in 1918, when the Germans located a few kilometers from Amiens were about to bomb the cathedral. The bishop took his concern to the Vatican and Pope Benedict XV intervened through the nuncio of Munich, the future Pius XII, with the German government to obtain the safeguarding of the cathedral.

The graft represented by these bags of earth creates a structural dialogue with the gothic architecture of the cathedral. The plastic intervention in the form of an assembly of modules forms a new delimited space that wraps the pillars of the monument from the inside. These sandbags are strangely similar to temple stones, giving the ensemble an architectural and spiritual cohabitation almost comparable to an artistic intervention if it had not taken place in a much more dramatic context.

Amiens Cathedral
Amiens Cathedral
Amiens Cathedral
Amiens Cathedral
Colorized version of the first picture

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