The last restoration 2019-2021
|On 25 August 2019, the Abbaye de la Celle closed its doors to the public for the last restoration operation on the west wing which had been collapsed since the 18th century.
One of the first operations was to dismantle the metal staircase to free the courtyard and bring in an impressive crane which stayed there for almost one year. It took ten hours of work to assemble this giant meccano whose boom reached a length of 30 metres.
Dismantling of the courtyard staircase
|As the courtyard was not accessible to construction equipment, all the materials, tools and vehicles necessary for the site had to be transported by air. Many building trades would be involved in the restoration of the monument. The first were the masons and stonemasons. The stone chosen for the construction of the vaults and the bay frames was a hard limestone from the Tieule quarry in the Lozère department.
However, before being able to reconstruct the vaulted ceiling of the walkway, substantial preparatory work was necessary: reconstructing the frames of the bays and the cornice in dressed stone in order to have a flush upper surface. To recreate the bay frame, the craftsman followed the stonemason’s layout drawing (drawing of the stones which compose the frame). Each stone was adjusted and laid with great precision, which required great expertise, especially as some stones weighed around a hundredweight. It was also necessary to reinforce the wall on the courtyard side which had a slight slant. To do this, metal rods were inserted into it vertically. They were connected by a stringer, a long reinforced concrete beam which helps to distribute stress.
Assembly of the crane
Restoration of the bay
The layout drawing
|Levelling and rods|
|At the beginning of 2020, everything was ready to begin the reconstruction of the vaulted ceiling. To create this centre (formwork) to support the construction, a forest of arch supports and props were put in place. The first stone was laid on 3 February.
|Laying of the first stone|
|Unfortunately, on 17 March, the introduction of a lockdown for Covid-19 brought work on the site to a halt. Work did not resume until 18 May 2020. During this forced stoppage, the joints of the vaulted ceiling had time to dry, and the formwork could be removed from the first bays.
Work comes to a halt
|Removal of formwork from the vaulted ceiling|
|6 July was also a memorable date on this site. This was the day when the wall which had blocked the west walkway for more than two centuries was demolished! All the cloister walkways are accessible again.
Demolition of the blocking wall
|Above the vaulted ceiling, the view has changed dramatically, the walls of the first floor and openings are quickly taking shape and terraces are being created. The west boundary wall is being raised to allow the carpenter to install the beams which will support the ceiling above the rooms adjoining the cloisters of the west wing.
Construction of the first floor
|Installation of beams|
|To make up for the time lost due to the stoppage of work imposed by the health situation, stone masons and carpenters remained on site throughout August to finish the roof.
|The third important date: 1st September 2020. The last centre supports for the vaulted ceiling in the west walkway are removed. After being abandoned for more than two centuries, it is once again possible to walk around the courtyard via the cloisters.
The walkway with formwork removed
|At the beginning of October, the arrival of the finishing trades (electrician, lift installer, locksmith, plumber, joiner, plasterer, painter...) transformed the abbey into a hive of activity. The church forecourt was at sixes and sevens as the project included a redevelopment of the entrance to the site to provide easier access to the monument as well as to the church.
Work on the forecourt
|In October 2020, the crane was dismantled, and its concrete base destroyed. The development of the courtyard could begin, with the creation of an outer path of broken cobblestones and a landscaped garden.
The congested courtyard
|In the south corner, the “old parlour” room was cleared again to uncover the remains discovered in 2018. The installation of a glass floor will allow people to discover the two-thousand-year-old history of the site via these remains. At the beginning of May 2021, after 18 months of work, the Abbey was once more open to the public.
The west wing entirely restored
Reminder of earlier works:
- December 1992 :
Acquisition of the old Abbaye de La Celle by the Department from the commune (the north walkway of the cloisters having already been restored).
- June 1998 to December 1999 :
Restoration of the east wing. Reinforcement of the nuns’ dormitory with tie-rods, restoration of stone vaults (3 out of 5 bays) and tiled roof as well as redevelopment of the chapter house, the nuns’ room and the heating room.
- February 2000 to October 2000 :
Restoration of the east wing; opening of bays in the chapter house, repositioning of the small columns in the chapter house, creation of stained-glass windows, development of the vestibule, restoration of the mediaeval door (passageway to the garden)...
- September 2003 to June 2004 :
Restoration of the terraces of the cloister walkways north and east, completion of the dormitory’s vaulted ceiling