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soissons cathedral

After Soissons cathedral was bombarded in early to mid 1918

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Soissons cathedral of St Gervais St Protais
Abbaye Saint-Jean-des-Vignes
 background facts 

Soissons cathedral of St Gervais St Protais

Construction of Soissons cathedral started in about 1180 and is regarded as finally completed in 1479. During the 18th century, the cathedral was restored.
It was in Soissons in 1118 that Pierre Abelard was forced to burn Theologia at Soissons after a first trial for heresy. For more details, go to Pierre Abelard, introduction and short biography.
During the French Revolution, it was used as a warehouse, suffering heavy damage.
1798: the remaining parts of the portal statuary was destroyed.
1799: restoration was started, but in 1815 two nearby powder factories exploded destroying much glass except that in the chancel.
1840: new restoration supervised by Edouard Corroyer, including new south transept buttresses.

The tower was built to imitate the tower on the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. It was originally intended to be balanced by a matching tower on the west facade, but that was never built.

Soissons cathedral prior to WW1

The west facade, Soissons cathedral
The west facade, Soissons cathedral

Further extensive damage occured during the First World War, from German bombardments over several years. The tower’s upper section and the nave’s first three bays were completely destroyed. Many windows were also broken, though the rich north transept windows and choir windows escaped the blast of the bombing and rested undamaged.

1928: Émile Brunet, architect of Historic Monuments, supervised a very successful restoration of both the tower and nave.

After Soissons cathedral was bombarded in early to mid 1918
After Soissons cathedral was bombarded in early to mid 1918

the interior of Soissons cathedral after WW1 bombardments
the interior of Soissons cathedral after WW1 bombardments

Floor plan of Soissons cathedral.
Floor plan of Soissons cathedral. Nave length: 122 metres,
height under nave vaults: 33.3 metres

Abbaye Saint-Jean-des-Vignes

Founded in 1076, Saint-Jean-des-Vignes Abbey was one of the richest and most powerful monasteries of the Middle Ages. The generosity of kings, nobility and middle classes paid for the erection of a large abbey-church and monastery buildings. The monastery lands included 30 hectares of vineyards, whence the monastery’s name.

Although despoiled during the Hundred Years War, and later during the Wars of Religion, the abbey continued to flourish until the French Revolution. Then, the monks were expelled, the furniture sold and silverware sent to Paris for melting down. The abbey-church was used as a bakery and garrison. Statues beheaded, stained glass broken were amongst the ruination of this once fine abbey where Thomas à Becket once stayed.

The West facade of the Abbey of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes, in  1910
The West facade of the Abbey of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes, in 1910

In 1805, an imperial decree ordered the abbey-church be dismantled so the stones could be used to repair Soissons cathedral, also ravaged by the Revolutionaries. Local priests induced the Bishop of Soissons to preserved the main front, the West facade, of the abbey-church.

Its doorways were damaged by fire in 1870, during the war with Germany. German shells set fire to a store of hay housed under the porches.

The West facade in 1918
The West facade in 1918

In 1914, both spires were stuck by German shells, truncating both to different degrees, while the whole facades was pitted by shell splinters.

The damage in 1918 was considerably greater. Much stonework, including fine and delicate carvings on the towers, was smashed. A breach in the north tower caused the upper part of its spire to crash to the ground.

West facade restored, 2005. Photo credit: Thierry Bézecourt
West facade restored, 2005
Photo credit: Thierry Bézecourt

Background facts
SoissonsSoissons coat of arms approximate population : 29,439
average altitude/elevation : 46 m
cathedral dimensions
exterior length : 116 m
external nave width : 26 m
interior width of the nave: 21.5 m
western facade width : 32 m
height, choir vaulting : 31 m

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Some reference keywords/tags:
cathedrale,france,germany,1870,1914,1940,invasion,occupation,cathedrale,Soissons,Emile Brunet,Canada,St Gervais,St Protais,Abbaye Saint-Jean-des-Vignes,Abbey,

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