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Germans in France -

saint quentin cathedral

 

Ruins of Saint Quentin cathedral interior

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This page is a subsidiary page to Germans in France.

index
la basilique de st. quentin - st. quentin cathedral
 background facts 
end notes

related pages:

la Basilique de St. Quentin - St. Quentin cathedral

[Note this building is not the seat of a bishop, so it cannot rightly be called a cathedral. It is a basilica that holds the relics of St Quentin.]

Building la Basilique de St. Quentin was began in 1195 and continued for 300 years. The city was besieged in 1557 by the Spanish. In 1871, St. Quentin was captured by the Germans during the Franco-German War.

Germans occupied the city on 28th August 1914, after which there were many battles with Allied troops fighting in this locality during 1914, 1917 and twice in 1918. One British soldier here was the war poet Wilfred Owen. St Quentin was finally liberated on 1st October 1918.

During the German occupation, there were many attempts to dislodge the Germans, resulting in the near total destruction of the cathedral, leaving just the outer walls.

Hole made to hold explosives When St. Quentin was relieved by French troups on 1st October 1918, chasing the Germans so they left the city precipitately. On entering the cathedral, the French soldiers were outraged to discover in the walls and pillars, ninety-three holes made and filled with explosives so the edifice could be blown up as the Germans had done to the donjon of Coucy in 1917. Some of the holes were 110 cm deep, 80 cm wide and 70 cm high. A German engineer captain was found left behind to do the diabolical chore, but he was stopped in time.

On 15th August 1917, the cathedral was set on fire and by the next afternoon all that was left was the outer walls. German newspapers claimed that the fires had been started by French gunfire. However, the 15th was relatively calm in this region with few bombardments. On the other hand, German troops had been seen pillaging the city of St. Quentin, including their officers being party to wholesale removal of stolen goods, including coal, factory equipment, wine and mattresses (for wool).

By 1918, the cathedral was almost completely destroyed, except the exterior walls.

St. Quentin, la Basilique before the First World War
St. Quentin, la Basilique before the First World War

 

Quentin, la Basilique, after 14 October 1918
St Quentin, la Basilique, after 14 October 1918

 

Ruins of the interior of St Quentin cathedral
Ruins of the interior of St Quentin cathedral
Photographer: Pfc. William B. Gunshor, 18 October, 1918

The damage to the cathedral was considerable: the vaulting of the central nave had collapsed completely, the flying buttresses were partially destroyed, there were numerous breaches in the walls and buttresses, while some masonry threatening to collapse could precipitate large falls, and the state of the bell tower was particularly worrying.

After the war, the Basilique de St. Quentin was restored.

Scaffolding on the South transept as the Basilique de St Quentin was restored
Scaffolding on the South transept as the Basilique de St Quentin was restored
[Note: the view appears to be of the south-west side]

The task of restoration was given to Emile Brunet, chief architect of the Historic Monuments Service, sometimes known as “the cathedral man” for his knowledge of ancient building techniques. At first, German prisoners of war cleared about 3,000 cubic metres of cut stone and rubble. Unfortunately, not being adequately supervised, they further damaged carvings and decorations. The most urgent consolidations of masonry was done by specialised workers, parts from damaged sculptures being put aside carefully for later restoration.

In order to protect the stone of the building from the weather until the roof was replaced, a temporary framework of eaves was placed on the top of the remaining walls, onto which 5,000 square metres of fibro-cement and Ruberoid sheeting was spread.

The restoration took twenty-five years.

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Floor plan of the Basilique de St Quentin
Floor plan of the Basilique de St Quentin, drawn by Emile Brunet.
The red dots mark 93 bore holes made by the Germans for holding explosives in order to destroy the building.
 
Background facts
Saint Quentin Saint Quentin coat of arms approximate population : 55,407
average altitude/elevation : 82 metres
cathedral dimensions
length : 123 metres
width : 52 metres
nave height : 34 metres

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Some reference keywords/tags:
cathedrale,
france,germany,basilica,basilique,1870,1914,1940,invasion,occupation,cathedrale,Saint Quentin,Emile Brunet,Canada,St Gervais,St Protais,Smil of Saint Quentin,Smiling Angel,l'Ange,le Sourire de Saint Quentin,

end notes

  1. Wilfred Owens , born 8th March 1893, Oswestry, Shropshire; died 4th November 1918 in Ors, France while attempting to lead his men across the Sambre-Oise canal at Ors. Owens was awarded the Military Cross posthumously, for bravery in October 1918 by seizing a German machine-gun and using it to kill a number of Germans.

    Wilfred Owens is a respected war poet, his two best known poems being “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and “Dulce et Decorum est”. He was encouraged by Seigfred Sassoon, another war poet and author, to publish his only book of poetry, Poems by Wilfred Owen.

    Seigfred Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer describes his service on the Western Front and his disillusionment with war. Sassoon also wrote war poems.

 


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