Townspeople Mourn as Gothic Saint-Jacques d’Abbeville Comes Tumbling Down

It’s a sad week for French Catholics, as the church of Saint-Jacques falls prey to the wrecking ball.

For 140 years the church of Saint-Jacques d’Abbeville—a great Gothic landmark in northwestern France, on the Somme river in the Picardy region—has called people to prayer.  Saint-Jacques was built in the Gothic style in 1868-76; and its tower bell, called “Jacqueline”, is much older—dating back to 1737.

During the First World War, the church and its steeple survived many attacks, even while other local churches and properties sustained significant damage.  In the Battle of the Somme, more than 19,000 British soldiers and many Germans died near Abbeville when Allied Forces tried to break through German lines, but Saint-Jacques was spared.

During World War II, the town again came under attack—and again, the church of Saint-Jacques withstood the assault.

 

 

 

The passing years, though, have done what the bombs could not. Storms and high winds have gradually caused parts of the external structure to deteriorate.  Finally in 2005, a pinnacle and gargoyle from the tower broke off in a storm, piercing through the roof of the nave.

A citizens’ group formed that year to advocate for preservation of the historic church; and in June of that year, the mayor of Abbeville assured that the city had no plans to demolish Saint-Jacques.

Items from the church of Saint-Jacques

But just three years later, in 2008, an architectural study estimated that it would cost €4.2 million to restore the building.  In 2011, an inspection revealed continued expansion of a major crack in the infrastructure.  At the same time, it was reported that many stones had fallen into the nave.

In light of the new findings, the government abandoned hope of restoration and determined that the church must be demolished to assure public safety.  On January 31, 2013, Abbeville mayor Nicolas Dumont ordered partial demolition.  The following week, on February 7, the Abbeville city council voted to demolish the entire structure—taking care to preserve the organ, the “Jacqueline” bell, and the furniture.

On March 18, 2013, the organ was carefully dismantled by a world-recognized Belgian organ builder.  On March 25, “Jacqueline” was carefully removed from the bell tower.  On April 2, the west façade of the church was demolished—leaving no alternative but to complete removal of the structure.  The transept and choir were next.  The 69-foot spire posed a particular problem; but a 90-meter arm was imported by ship from Belgium, enabling harnessed workmen to reach the highest point on the steeple; and this weekend, the steeple and the already shortened spire were slated for removal.

It’s hard to watch–and it’s hard to understand, since it’s all in French; but here you can see the Gothic beauty tumbling down.


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