Monday, May 25, 2009

Saint Jean de Montmartre

Somewhat in the shadow of the nearby Sacre Coeur, the church of St Jean de Montmartre is in fact a far more interesting and revolutionary structure. After Montmartre was absorbed into Paris in 1860, the population on the small town on the hill began to rise quickly, and new places of worship were needed for this expanded community. The Sacre Coeur was built as a message to the city as a whole following the uprising of the 'Godless' during the Commune in 1871, but Saint Jean de Montmartre was always intended to be simply a community building.

The architect chosen to build the structure was Anatole de Baudot, a former pupil of Viollet Le Duc. He despised much of the architecture of the 19th century, calling it an architecture of pretence, where the structures used to create the buildings were often hidden behind columns and decorations. Working with the engineer Paul Cottancin, he discovered a way to build a new type of structure, one that would be lightweight and easy to produce. The framework for his building would be in reinforced concrete, with brick being used for decoration, insulation and as an additional support. The technique was so revolutionary that people refused to believe that it would be solid enough, and construction was halted for several years whilst tests were carried out.

When it was finished in 1904, reactions to the structure were very mixed. It was the first modern religious building in the city, and one that would prove influential when a whole series of brick churches were created in the 1920s and 30s, but many found it to be dark and austere. Today, we can admire the engineering and experiments with new materials, and wonder at the techniques they found to enable construction on such a steep slope, but on simple aesthetic terms it is not entirely successful. From the outside, it is a curious mix of byzantine and art deco, whilst viewed from the rear we could be forgiven for thinking it is a factory. The decorative elements are also not entirely convincing. The stained glass windows and the tesserae that cover the cement on the facade are certainly attractive, but other items are fussy, and only now have I noticed the ridiculously small clock on the top left side of the main tower.

Address: 19 Rue des Abbesses, 75018
Architect: Anatole de Baudot (with Paul Cottancin)
Year of construction: 1894-1904


CarolineLD said...

I'm fond of this building (I've stayed in a hotel down the road several times) but despite having seen it so often had never noticed the clock until you pointed it out. Not so much 'ridiculously small' as 'virtually invisible'!

JPD said...

... and the locals call this church by its nickname: "Notre-Dame des briques"!

Btw, I love your blogs, congratulations!

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