Do we have any idea how this bell tower was built in the XVIth century ? Today, for the restoration work, we have scaffolding over 35 metres high, with metal bars and protective nets… How did the workers do it in the old days?
Techniques were roughly the same as today; However, there was no such thing as metal tube scaffolding; Scaffolding was made up of wooden structures, using poles and crossbeams on which planks rested; Assemblies were made using ropes; I should add that safety standards didn’t exist at the time, and scaffolding was often reduced to its simplest form (tilting scaffolding or scaffolding resting on certain parts of a building that had already been erected); A parallel could be drawn with Asian bamboo structures;
To get an idea of this type of scaffolding, you can try to obtain a reproduction of the image on the ex-voto in the Marseillette church in Limoux, which shows one of these scaffoldings, dating from the 18th century;
It seems that Abbé Philippe de Levis died before the construction work was completed, so what happened next?
On the death of Abbé Philippe de Levis, construction work was interrupted; We can assume that the troubles of the Wars of Religion put a definitive stop to the project; However, this needs to be verified; What we do know, however, is that the unfinished floor was fitted with brick arches to form a terrace, on top of which was placed a wooden frame in the shape of a spire. This is the one seen on the Monasticon Gallicanum, which was dismantled when the abbey was converted into a military hospital during the French Revolution.
What did the finished bell tower look like?
I’ve just answered that above; Philippe de Lévis’s project was undoubtedly considered too ambitious, even disproportionate; Perhaps this is why the project was not pursued; The unfinished bell tower was already very imposing;
As I understand it, it was more a church tower than a defensive tower, but didn’t this monumental construction stand out from the rest of the abbey?
Lagrasse’s bell tower was indeed a church tower, but it was also the master tower of the abbey’s defensive system, since the first-floor room served the east and south sentry walkways; The lower part of the building is fitted with modern gunports for the 16th century;
The abbey at that time was more composite than it is today; In addition, it had been won and equipped with defensive towers that have since been destroyed or levelled; The large bell tower crowned the fortified enclosure and must not have looked as isolated as it does today;
Is this your first time working on a religious monument occupied by a community? Is it an advantage or a constraint to restore a “living” building in this way? How easy is it to work with the canons?
This is the second time I’ve had to restore a religious building occupied by a community; The first, some ten years ago, involved the restoration of the bell tower at Rieunette Abbey in the Aude region of France;
Working on the restoration of a “living” building is certainly not a constraint – quite the contrary; It provides an insight into how monastic buildings have always adapted to constraints, and allows us to observe the daily adjustments between the spiritual and the temporal;
The collaboration with the canons of Lagrasse is very pleasant and the exchanges precious; For example, the work on the gargoyles is a perfect example of a client’s involvement in the iconographic program of sketches submitted by the sculptor in charge of creating them;
How do you see the restoration of this heritage ensemble (the bell tower, the ruined transept and the abbey church) as specific (unique)?
In this day and age, it is rare indeed to witness the revival of a monastic establishment on this scale, and the patient but determined architectural rebirth of its distinguished abbey church;