Guide des archictures religieuses contemporaines a Paris et en Ile-de-France.
Edited by Spiritualite et Art: Elisabeth Flory with Marie-France Blumereau et Claire Mouly
Paris: editions Alternatives, 2009
ISBN 978 2862275932,191pp, p/b, 29 [euro]
This guidebook for contemporary religious architecture in Paris and its surrounding region, the Ile-de-France, was much awaited. It is the first to be published in nearly 40 years. The last one, on Catholic architecture only but covering all of France, was by the famous journal L'Art sacre's final editor, Pere Jean Cappellades, in 1969. A few books since then have treated contemporary religious architecture, but neither very extensively nor in the form of a guidebook. This one has added to its mission the inclusion of religious architecture from different faiths and thus features churches and temples--as protestant churches are referred to in France -, Jewish synagogues and community centres, Islamic mosques, and also places of meditation.
The handsome and practically-sized book is structured into two main parts: introductory texts and individual building/site entries. After the preface by the eminent Bruno Foucart (University Paris IV-Sorbonne/ President of the Comite du patrimoine cultuel, a government appointment) and the explanatory presentation of the guidebook by its mastermind, Elisabeth Flory, a series of short texts sets the stage for delving into either virtual armchair visits or guide-in-hand excursions to sites. The concise and informative introductory texts are written by experts in their fields: A Brief History of Architecture Since the Second World War by Claude Massu (University Paris I, Pantheon-Sorbonne), The Legal Framework of Constructing Religious Buildings in France since 1905 (year of separation of Church and State) by the guidebook authors with the input of experts from the Catholic Church and the Interior Ministry (Conference des Eveques de France and Bureau Central des cultes du Ministere de l'Interieur), A History of Church Building in Ile-de France from 1945 to 2007 by Antoine Le Bas (public Heritage curator), Financing Religious Edifices in France Since 1905 by Pierre Verot (normalien, editor for the Chantiers du Cardinal, an Ile de France Catholic Church agency advocating and managing church-building, founded in the 1930s), Catholic Churches For Our Time by Jean-Pol Hindre (architect and advisor the Chantiers du Cardinal), Protestant Religious Architecture by Bernard Reymond (University of Lausanne), 20th-century Jewish Religious Architecture in France by Dominique Jarrasse (University of Bordeaux and Ecole du Louvre) and Islamic Religious Architecture by Dominique Carril (architect, notably, along with Christine Carril, of the new mosque currently under way for the 19th arrondissement in Paris; they also designed a Jewish community centre in 1994 in Pantin). Each text is insightful about the past 40 years (or more), and also depicts an honest, realistic image of the current situation.
According to Flory, of the over 1000 religious edifices built in Ile de France since 1945, the selection process was rigorous and there are just over 100 entries in the guidebook. Criteria for their inclusion were the quality of the architecture both outside and in, functionalism, materials, originality of style, treatment of light/lighting, and the insertion into the surrounding environment. The vast majority of the sites presented are Roman Catholic, mirroring the religious-cultural profile of the inhabitants of France. Some are of no surprise, such as the Evry cathedral (by Mario Botta, 1996) while others are, such as the humble hidden treasure on the rue du Bac in Paris that is the rustic chapel for the Secours catholique, complete with shepherd stools for the faithful (designed in 1965 by the bishop Rodhain-Simon Vignaud, founder of the Secours catholique, with windows by Gabriel Loire). Among some of the new and visually intriguing works is the Chapelle des Diaconesses de Reuilly in Versailles (2008, by Marc Rolinet--see also his Temple in Ermont-Taverny, also of 2008) with it's womb or nest-like sanctuary within a glass 'box' set in nature.
Flory explains the low number of synagogues by the lamentable observation that the Jewish communities often opt for high-wall enclosures and neutral architecture to insure discretion and anonymity, presumably for security reasons, though this is not directly stated. There are some exceptions, such as the quite visible MJLF (Mouvement Juif Liberal de France) Synagogue in Paris' 15th arrondissement (created by Lionel Schein in 1980 and updated and expanded by Philippe
Assie in 2008). She also comments that the basement, home, garage and even street mosques of France are just now being replaced with more visible and sometimes enormous structures to serve this ever-growing population of worshippers. The most innovative of these projects are included, such as the 2008 mosque in Creteil (by AEM Architetures--Ali Hadjour), with room for 1000 men and 450 women.
Other more experimental places are included, such as Pierre Buraglio's multi-faith hospital oratory (Hopital Bretonneau, 18th arrondissement, Paris) and Tadeo Ando's Space for Meditation at the Unesco headquarters in the seventh arrondissement along with the Peace Garden there (1958, by Isamu Noguchi, artist, and Teomon Sano, gardener). If far from perfect, they merit the interest the authors give them.
Each building/site entry has its own page, with about half devoted to descriptive text not only on the architecture but the notable art and liturgical arrangements and furnishings, one or two photos, and practical information, both on the architecture (name, date, architect/s) and logistics (address, telephone, website, access). Entries are grouped geographically, first Paris is presented, then the surrounding departements that make up the Ile-de-France region. Each group is introduced by a map that allows one to get a schematic idea of the religious landscape of the area in question. The guidebook is also furbished with a helpful glossary of religious and technical terms, and there is an index of place names and one of artists and architects, followed by a list of pertinent websites for the different religions.
While there are no truly revolutionary architectural wonders featured in the book--has anything been created since the Ronchamp chapel that can top it? (and first image one encounters in the book is one of Ronchamp!)--one can guess that a subterranean agenda operating in this guidebook is to try and keep religious architecture in France on a certain track: one that demands quality, creativity, attention, care. In a time where just about anything is possible, the best perhaps but, alas, more commonly the worst, this guidebook serves as a template for what can be considered as acceptable and sometimes laudable, to guide those in whose hands tomorrow's religious architecture lies.
The publication itself can only be lauded. We must hope that the next two volumes, which are meant cover the rest of France, will be completed and published in the near future. Even if your French is not proustien, there is much information that can be easily gleaned from this invaluable visual and text document.
Inge Linder-Gaillard is an art historian based in Grenoble and is on the editorial board of A&C