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Germans in France -

saint quentin cathedral [basilique]

Ruins of Saint Quentin cathedral interior

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

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.

During World WarOne, Germans occupied the city on 28th August 1914. Following this, there were many battles with Allied troops fighting in this locality during 1914, in 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).

St. Quentin, with a large hole in pillar to the right for explosives
St. Quentin, with a large hole for explosives in pillar to the right

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

Quentin, la Basilique, after 14 October 1918
St Quentin, view of the west facade and surrounds, 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

As you can see in the photograph just above, there are tie-rods high in the springing. (Compare this with Westminster Abbey, of which the tie-rods are positioned where the pillars meet the springing.) These rods allowed tensions to be adjusted as a help in stabilising the building. They existed in both the apse and the nave. In the late 19th century, these tie-rods were removed from the nave. During the war damage, it is noted that the vaulting still held up fairly well in the nave, while it collapsed in the apse.

The damage to the cathedral was considerable: not only the vaulting of the apse 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.

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.
New translation, the Magna Carta

the labyrinth ('maze')

The Basilica of Saint Quentin has a labyrinth. The labyrinth at Amiens is somewhat similar. (Much more information on this at the Amiens link.)

Saint Quentin labyrinth drawn by Jules Gailhabaud
Saint Quentin labyrinth, drawn by Jules Gailhabaud [1810-1888],
in L'architecture du 5me au 17me siècle et les arts qui en dépendent, Volume 2, 1858

[Note: the drawing has an error, missing two bars. abelard.org has added these bars in red.
This drawing does not illustrate the actual labyrinth at Saint Quentin.
s you can see the drawing must be flipped left to right to match the actual labyrinth]

photograph of the actual labyrinth at Saint Quentin
photograph of the actual labyrinth at Saint Quentin

related document:
cathedral labyrinths and mazes in France illustrated
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
labyrinth (labyrinthe) diameter : 11.6 m

Marker at abelard.org

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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marker Germans in France - St. Quentin cathedral
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marker cathedral plans, and facts
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marker the perpendicular or English style of cathedral
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