Friday, January 1, 2010

Ile Chambiere

The Ile Chambiere is a large island within the city of Metz that is home to, among other things, the headquarters of the Lorraine region, the municipal swimming pool, and the municipal library. Two ecclesiastical buildings stand out.

The first is a solitary bell tower, all that's left of a huge 19th-Century Lutheran abbey built to minister to German soldiers. The tower stands a meter taller than the tallest tower of the Saint-Etienne cathedral across the river, and 2400 people could sit in the nave. Completed in 1875, the Garrison Temple, with its neo-gothic style, predated the imperative to "Germanize" Metz's architecture. Unfortunately the church was heavily damaged in World War II. The bell tower, with its clock still keeping time, is all that remains. A great blog, la-lorraine-se-devoile, has more.

The second abbey reflects the changing vicissitudes of both architectural taste and political fortune. The Abbey of Saint Vincent, the second-largest church in Metz, after the cathedral, was built on the site of early churches that date back as early as the 9th Century.
The large gothic structure, completed in 1251, had its problems. The abbey's towers were successively destroyed by fire 1395, by collapse of the bells in 1656, by fire again in 1705, and by lightning (!) in 1752. And so, in a way similar to that of the Cathedral, a new monumental neoclassical facade was added in 1786, with successive tiers of Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns. And that's how the abbey remains to this day--a neoclassical face on a gothic body. The grandeur of the new facade did not serve the Benedictines for long--with the French Revolution the abbey was seized and then rented to the city. It successively housed a military store and workshop, a prison, housing for prisoners of war, and a hospital for horses. In 1802 The building was returned the church and in 1804 became a lycée (high school), one of the first in France. Today the building is still part of the Lycée Fabert. The city of Metz has a Web page with the details of this story.

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