Saturday, 25 April 2015

Ruined Churches : The Great War

World War One Churches
A shell exploding on the city of Saint-Quentin;
The partly-ruined basilica dominates the skyline.

March 1918
In Australia on this day, 25th April, we commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the campaign at the Dardanelles (modern day Turkey), which was the brainchild of Winston Churchill. This eight month campaign on the beaches and cliffs of Gallipoli was a dismal failure without any strategic gain and which resulted in the deaths of many thousands of Australian, British and New Zealand soldiers (in addition to some Canadian and Indian troops) and their Turkish adversaries. Since that day in 1915, Australia especially has commemorated this particular campaign of the First World War.

World War One Churches
French soldiers and workmen amidst the ruined nave of the Basilica of Saint Quentin 1918.
Juxtaposed with the incomprehensible scale of casualties throughout the Great War (1914-1918) is the destruction of towns in Belgium and France - the victim of heavy artillery shelling. We should not be surprised that when human life counted for so little, the sanctity of the House of God would not be respected either. Quite a number of centuries old churches and cathedrals were reduced to rubble in this horrific, senseless conflict. In this post, we illustrate just one such destruction - the Basilica of Saint-Quentin in that region of northern France called Picardy.

World War One Churches
The Basilica of Saint-Quentin, Northern France
pictured before the Great War began.
Its eclectic mixture of styles is the consequence
of being built and rebuilt over many centuries.
The city of Saint-Quentin was overrun by invading German forces in September 1914 and remained an on-and-off focus of battle to the very end of the war. Much destruction on the town and on the basilica was wrought during Operation Michael in March 1918. But the basilica had been damaged previously in 1916 and 1917.

In 1914, the Basilica of Saint Quentin (the city bears the name of the basilica) was eight centuries old. It is believed to have been commenced in the eleventh century, but of this work, the western tower seems only to survive. The eleventh century program replaced earlier churches on the site. From the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, the basilica was constructed from its east end to the western tower. A more detailed description of its history and architecture can be found here.

World War One Churches
Ruins of the Saint-Quentin Basilica 1918.
The basilica survived an attempt by the German forces to demolish it completely with high-explosives upon their Retreat in 1918. It has been undergoing reconstruction and restoration in stages over an entire century.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.

World War One Churches
The rubble-filled ruins of the choir of the Saint-Quentin Basilica.

World War One Churches
The rebuilt apse with its chevet chapels.

World War One Churches
A recent photograph of the southern side of the Basilica.
The eclectic style of the building, the product of several centuries of construction,
was preserved during the long years of reconstruction after the Great War.