Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Restoring St Denis

Yesterday was the traditional feast day of St Denis, the Martyr Bishop of Paris and patron of France. He is my favourite cephalaphore. There is an account from Wikipedia of his life and legend, of his hagiography and depiction in art at Saint Denis of Paris and another about his cult from the New Liturgical Movement today at The Legend of St Denis

His shrine church is, of course, the basilica of St Denis, now in the northern suburbs of Paris, and not reputed to be a very savoury place for the unwary visitor. The basilica, the abbey of St Denis, is, of course, famous both as the first fully gothic church as rebuilt by Abbot Suger and as the necropolis of the Kings and Royal House of France. There is a good illustrated account of it from Wikipedia at Basilica of Saint-Denis

Saint-Denis - Façade.jpg

The west front of St Denis following the 2012-15 restoration

Image: Wikipedia 

That story is not a happy one at times - the desecration of the abbey church and of the royal tombs by the revolutionaries in 1793 is a truly shocking event, and later restorers of the church did not help with their heavy handedness and squabbles, not least in the events of 1845-6.

West façade of Saint-Denis, before the dismantling of the north tower
Image: Wikipedia 

Now regular readers will be aware that the Clever Boy is not a Yorkshireman for nothing, and combines the sense of vague gloom integral to such an origin, as indicated in the previous paragraph, with that of a certain type of traditional ( or Traditional ) Tory - please note Tory, nothing so modern as “Conservativism” - pessimism about the way the world is going. That does not mean he is a depressive, and is normally (?) quite cheerful, but from bitter experience he views the world with a cold eye when it comes to the true restoration of those things that are gone to decay. Occasionally however something happens which does fill his soul and mind with delight at seeing the return of that which had been lost. The rebuilding of the Frauenkirke in Dresden and of the Berlin Schloss are examples that lifted his heart. They are replacing losses from 1945, but the Clever Boy could still hardly believe they had been rebuilt. Now he feels that special joy again, repairing this time destruction from not seventy five years ago but from 175 years ago...

A short while ago he came across this passage on the Wikipedia account of the basilica of St Denis...
In the early 1840s, cracks appeared in the north tower's masonry following several extreme weather events. A violent storm on 19 August 1845, notable for spawning a tornado, proved critical, and the tower's walls were soon found to have flexed and become dangerously unstable. With François Debret's reconstructive works, carried out after an 1837 lightning strike, proving inadequate, in February 1846 the authorities decided to "temporarily" dismantle the north tower to avoid a catastrophic collapse, with the stones stored for later reconstruction.

In December 2016, 170 years after the north tower's dismantlement and following several false starts, the Ministry of Culture again proposed its reconstruction after concluding it was technically feasible—albeit without public funding. 

An association, Suivez la flèche("Follow the Spire"), chaired by Patrick Braouezec, has since been established to support the reconstruction, with the aim of raising the necessary funds by opening the reconstruction works to the general public, along the model of the Guédelon Castle. In March 2018 the culture ministry signed an accord with the association, officially launching the reconstruction project, with works expected to commence in May 2020.

There is more about the scheme in an illustrated article - with occasionally curious Franglais - from the Paris Bulletin at Saint-Denis Basilica spire

Saint-Denis Cathedral with the new spire

The scheme envisioned - an anticipation of what will be achieved

Image: Paris Bulletin

Such indeed brings joy to the heart of the Clever Boy. Never could I have believed such a thing could happen after all the passage of events since 1845-6 - how many upheavals of state and politics in France, how many conflicts, how much of an assault on the Faith - yet now the north tower and spire of the Royal Abbey of St Denis are going to be rebuilt. Laus Deo !

St Denis Pray for us
St Louis Pray for us