Monday, 22 February 2010

Anthony Caro Chapel of Light

From Anthony Caro Chapel of Light

Last Thursday we were returning towards Calais to catch the ferry on Friday morning so a diversion to Bourbourg was easy. We found the Church of St Jean Baptiste but the Chapel of Light was closed for annual maintenance – it was due to reopen on Saturday and clearly work had finished. After some disappointment and annoyance at finding yet another of our targets closed (the Cathedral at Châlons en Champagne was closed, too) we decided to find the Choeur de Lumière office. We were welcomed by Coralie and explained that we had hoped to visit the Chapel particularly as it was one of the items on the Diocesan Lenten activities (I’m not sure if pulling rank helped!) She was very helpful and got us permission for a special visit. She phoned the Guardian Benjamin and by the time we returned to the Church he was waiting with protective covers for our shoes. We were admitted past the ‘no entry’ signs into a wonderful world.

The Church had been destroyed in the war – during the Dunkirk evacuations a British pilot crashed his blazing plane into the roof of the Church to avoid the town. Later the Germans took much of the stonework and ground up the paving to make an airfield. The Church was restored in the ‘50s but the Choir was left untouched with a brick wall closing off the East end of the Church. In 1999 Sir Anthony Caro was asked to design the restoration of the Choir and the work was completed and dedicated in 2008.

The Choir is approached though an external sculpture ‘Threshold’ which is inspired by the ancient plan of the town of Bourbourg.

It represents a transition from the busyness of the town to the calm of the Church. The Choir itself is full of light – enhanced by the choice of a modern material – mineral concrete – for the floor. The new floor is symbolic but it is separated from the columns and walls by a gap to respect the difference between the ancient and the new. The Baptismal font is constructed in this new material and is designed to allow immersion. I think it’s unusual that the font is placed in the Choir of a church rather than the traditional location near the entrance.

Caro’s sculptures fill the nine niches around the Choir itself together with two in the wings. All are constructed of steel and terracotta and are big and bold. The first, Alleluia, has body fragments and figurines. The Niche elements represent the creation with an emphasis on water – The Depth, Sea Creatures, Galapagos, Seashore, Watering Hole, Waterfall, Undergrowth, Beside the River, Fruits. Finally in the other wing is Paradise Garden featuring Adam and Eve. There are also two towers – Tower of Morning, and Tower of Evening – made out of French oak. These make use of the height of the Choir and encourage climbing. Unfortunately we were asked not to enter because they had been recently treated.
The lightness and modernity of the whole was a big contrast to the dim and traditional main body of the Church, a wonderful example of Sustaining the Sacred Centre.

We thanked Benjamin for hosting our special visit; he gave us a candle of Notre Dame de Bourbourg which we’ll light to remember our visit.

There’s a wonderful quotation on one of the brochures issued by the Chapel of Light: “... Not all our books will perish, nor our statues, if broken, lie unrepaired. Other domes and pediments will arise from our domes and pediments. Some few men will think and work and feel as we have done, and I venture to count upon such continuators, placed irregularly over the centuries, and upon this kind of intermittent immortality.”

More pictures - click on the slideshow to see all the pictures.

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