Precisely the day before the year ended, I met Darya from the blog Tortore. We had been conspiring to make a joint blog post about the Cathedral of Lille, especially about it’s huge bronze door. Darya had done plenty of research about it and had written a text for me. We agreed to meet at the cathedral so that I could make photos of it. I am so glad to have been able to meet up Darya, she is incredibly interesting and lovely. Oh, and allow me to add, so stylish too…
Lille Cathedral is thought to have been founded in 1066 but was destroyed after the French Revolution, Reconstruction began in 1854. Plans for the cathedral were far more grandly anticipated, but wars along with political problems halted its smooth rebuilding.
The Lille Cathedral usually provokes a great division in opinions due to its mixture of historical and contemporaneous styles. You either love it or hate it.
Now, about that bronze door. I’m honoured to have Darya’s words here:
Georges Jeanclos was the pseudonym of Georges Jeankelowitsch. He was born in Paris in 1933 and died in Paris in 1997.
Jeanclos grew up in Paris during the war, and was traumatized by what he saw and went through. He studied art and sculpture at the Beaux-Arts school in Paris in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, then started teaching art, first in Le Mans, and later in Paris. His sculpture is heavily influenced by the Jewish genocide and the Second World War, and more generally by human suffering, Christian spirituality (even though he himself came from a Jewish family), and the notion of tenderness in human relationships (his characters are always embraced in a tender, loving attitude). His work is usually quite peaceful and serene, even when the message is powerful. He himself said of his style that it was heavily influenced by Etruscan statuary and Zen Buddhism. His characters all have smooth faces, bare heads, and their bodies are usually covered with sheets, shrouds, or rags. They all look identical, and are reminiscent of pre-Columbian masks.
Jeanclos created numerous sculptures for churches, such as the doorway of the Saint Ayoul church in Provins, or his very last work, the doorway of the Lille cathedral. It is made of glass and bronze. Inside the church is also a statue of the Virgin Mary, which he didn’t have time to complete.
This doorway is dedicated to the Virgin of the climbing vine (which is a bit strange, considering that the Lille region is better known for its beer and doesn’t even produce wine). On top of the door, in the middle, over a large vine stock, sits the Virgin Mary, represented as a very young girl; her arms are open, and she is holding a cluster of grapes in one hand: she is blessing the people and seems to be inviting them in. All over the door is a crisscross of vine stocks. At some crossing points, Jeanclos has represented “sleepers”, which look like curled up children, while in some other parts, he has sculpted Pietàs: one character – a woman – is holding a lifeless or sleeping person in her arms. All the characters are covered with sheets or rags. They are all either sleeping or praying, and the whole sculpture gives an impression of peace and anguish at the same time.
The work is covered with all sorts of details, such as scrolls of parchment, with Hebrew inscriptions on them; in that way, Jeanclos sought to link the Old and New Covenants. The knots on the vine stocks represent tears. All the characters seem to be young children; it might be due to the fact that they are all sleeping and have the same peaceful faces, but I cannot help thinking of the Jewish children that were killed during World War II when I look at this sculpture.
The reason for my believing these are Jewish children is because of the first sculpture I ever saw by Jeanclos, which is situated in Square Viviani, right across the Seine from the Notre-Dame cathedral, between the Café Panis (don’t ever go there) and the Shakespeare and Company bookstore (which is worth the detour). I don’t know how many thousands of times I passed by this sculpture before actually looking at it. I guess that happens a lot when you live in a place and don’t take notice of the smaller details.
In August of 2012, my friend L. from Austin, TX, came for a visit, and as we strolled through the Square Viviani, she immediately noticed this sculpture, and asked me about it. I had no idea what it was, so we just looked at it, took some pictures, and googled it when we got back home. It was indeed a very moving work, and a surprising one in such a place.
The bronze sculpture stands in the middle of a pretty public garden, with flowers, benches, and the beautiful little Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre church in the background. If you turn your back to the church, you can see the majestic Notre-Dame cathedral on the other side of the river. The sculpture is dedicated to the 5th arrondissement Jewish children who died in deportation. It represents a tree, with knots in the shape of tears, and children embracing each other. These children all have the same expression as the sleepers on the Lille cathedral door. Just a few days later, L. and I got on a train and travelled to Lille. The first thing we did was to go and visit the cathedral, which I thought was mainly interesting because of its huge marble slab on the façade (and it is worth seeing as it is quite an impressive and beautiful sight). But the first thing L. noticed was the bronze door, which was obviously sculpted by the same person as the memorial in Square Viviani. After we visited the cathedral, I tried to find out more about this church and this door, so when Sofia asked me if I would agree to write a short text about it, I was very happy to oblige her, and I hope her readers will enjoy this short summary as much as I enjoyed doing the research.
We walked around the cathedral, and let me share a secret, I adore beautiful floors with beautiful tiles. Darya brought to my attention a mosaic in one part of the cathedral which represents different professions. Of course one of my favourite ones was the musician.
However my utmost favourite was the candle maker.
Afterwards we were lucky that the sun came out for us for a moment, and I managed to get this shot with the cathedral in the background peeking out from behind the houses.
Then what did us two food bloggers get up to after that? Lunch obviously.
Thank you Darya! Thanks for writing for my blog and for a great day.