Thursday of last week was a big day at the 15th-century chapel we are helping to restore. A meeting we had been urging for some time finally took place, between our architect, M Salomon, and the architect from Bâtiments de France. BDF are in charge of historic monuments and we needed them to inspect the site and authorise the work we propose.
We have already raised about 15,000 euros and the Mayor of Parisot said recently that he would now start applying for grants and subsidies. We are hoping they will add up to 100,000 euros in the first tranche. Our team of volunteers has already done a lot but some of the restoration requires specialist skills. We also need a prioritised programme of work, which it is our architect’s job to draw up.
The BDF architect was late and we were concerned at first about a mix-up. He eventually turned up with his female sidekick, neither of them exactly kitted out for the freezing cold and muddy conditions. A bit surprising, since it’s their job.
They inspected the chapel’s exterior. Fortunately, it was re-roofed about 20 years ago and is still in reasonable condition. Mr BDF seemed pleased with the removal of the rubble from what remained of the former de La Valette side chapel. He authorised us to continue and make good the sides to prevent earth sliding in.
The main concern there is that the wall blocking up the former arch leading from the church is in danger of collapsing in places. That’s one of the priorities, along with retracing the line of the original arch, both inside and out.
Next up is to pinion the buttress to the left-hand side of the main door. It’s not dangerous but some stones are crumbling at a strategic point and need replacing. He also said we should remove the earth banks on either side of the steps leading down to the main door. He praised the steps – all the SF’s work – which he said were in keeping with the spirit of a rustic chapel.
Unfortunately, a grave occupies one of the banks of earth, which we will need to move, after having sought the authorisation of the family concerned. The grave has a skull and crossbones from about 1870, which the family of a young man who died in World War I aged 20 covered with a movable stone carrying his epitaph.
The BDF architect also approved the work we had done to lay a drain beside the south wall. The abundant rain from the roof penetrates the stonework inside at that point but it is already drying out thanks to the drain.
100,000 euros might sound a lot but it doesn’t go far towards restoring an historic monument. The BDF architect said we had a number of choices inside the chapel. We had already removed all the crumbling plaster from some of the stonework but not all of it is in good condition. Repointing it is beyond our means. Another option is to cover it with a sort of limewash that enables one to visualise the masonry underneath but doesn’t conceal it entirely. We also have to position and conceal cables for electricity – the cost of its installation alone is 14,000 euros.
The vaulted ceiling is also covered by thick plaster. It is probably brick underneath but the cost of exposing it would be prohibitive. Here, again, we have to compromise and simply fill in the cracks.
The vaulting divides the church into sections. He advised us to do them one by one, starting nearest the door, where the chapel most needs attention. ‘Cosmetic’ features like the broken stained glass windows will have to wait before we can contemplate repairing them.
Overall, it was a satisfactory morning. The two architects agreed a programme of work, the BDF architect was impressed with what we had already achieved and he listed several priorities that we can pursue ourselves. Going out to tender, getting the money, pushing the work along etc. will no doubt be fraught with red tape and frustration. But we had the feeling that things are moving.
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