Is it time for a renaissance for this vast church located at the gates of Paris? Remained in the shadow of Notre-Dame, the necropolis of the kings of France - it houses the remains of 43 of them - has been the subject of major renovation work for several years.
For the past year, the stained glass windows of the ambulatory have been the focus of all attention. This project of more than 2 million euros took nearly 25 years to materialize.
"The time of heritage is a long time", underlines to AFP Laurent Roturier, director of the DRAC of Île-de-France, in charge of the project.
On a temporary floor that provides access to the vaults of the basilica, classified as a historic monument in 1862, Mr. Roturier contemplates the installation of several stained glass windows.
“We are at the end of the road”, slips into a smile Guillaume Urvoas, stained glass artist. A long and tedious journey that began in 1997.
It was on this date that the oldest stained glass windows of the basilica were stored in the historical monuments research laboratory (LRMH). Dating from the middle of the XNUMXth century, they constitute a milestone in the history of stained glass, which makes them exceptional.
Damaged by time, worn by bad weather, these stained glass windows are therefore removed. In their place, polycarbonate facsimiles are installed.
Then opens a debate that will last several years: should they be restored to reinstall them or create perfect copies?
The second option was chosen by the experts. In total, nearly twenty copies were made.
A titanic project that began with research and documentation work on these stained glass windows. Because, recalls heritage architect Thomas Clouet, they were dismantled at the time of the French Revolution.
If they were not vandalized, the fact remains that some pieces were scattered. "There was a watch work to find them, reconstruct their history, their journey in order to then be able to move on to the copy phase", explains Laurent Roturier.
"We are on a job of crazy precision. Sometimes on the color palette or the composition. It's something you only do once in a lifetime", assures the master glassmaker Emmanuel Putanier, also Director of Vitrail France.
"Our specifications were heavy. As we could not take the originals out of the laboratory, we set up an operating procedure to take readings directly on site", he continues.
Above all, it was necessary to ensure the harmony of the whole: over the centuries, the basilica has been the subject of successive waves of work. "We took into account the alteration of time in the copies. They didn't have to seem new or modern", says Emmanuel Putanier.
The rooms are then integrated into windows that mostly date from the XNUMXth century.
"The most important thing for us was to rediscover this relationship with light because that is the spirit that presided over the construction of this basilica, as its founders wanted", insists Laurent Roturier.
Other renovations are in progress, especially on the tabernacles, in this basilica visited each year by more than 130.000 people.