In 1908 the Abbey was classified as a Historic Monument at the request of the municipality, which wanted to preserve its remains. The commune hoped by this action to receive financial and material aid from the Art and Architecture administration.
The first, urgent task to replace the spire of the bell-tower with a “square, low-pitched roof”, was decided on in 1923, but the estimate turned out to have been far too low, so the work could not be completed until 1936. Alongside the difficult and long-winded bell-tower restoration, other problems, mainly those of administration, came to light and with the passing of time the edifice became more and more fragile.
We had to wait until the 21st century before a study carried out by the Chief Architect of Historic Monuments, Mr Thouin, was realised. It led to a better historical and architectural knowledge of the monument (the Abbey). Once the state of both the communal and the private Abbey buildings was established, guidelines were drawn up for a project of restoration and development, taking account of the complexity of the site. Several parameters had to be taken into account: the importance of the site, the archaeological layers superimposed one upon the other, the division of properties and ownership, the occupation of the ground and the financial capacity of the commune and its partners. Bringing this project to completion will take until 2020-2025.
PHASES OF THE PROGRAMME OF WORK
The most urgent need was without doubt the rescue of the north apsidiole, which was in a ruined state. It had lost its vaulting and the top part of its walls. Nevertheless, it proved possible to preserve important elements, such as the entrance arch and its two capitals. Previously privately-owned, the apsidiole was acquired by the commune in 2003. The restoration work began in 2005 and was completed in 2006.
The second concern was the once-covered walkway (ambulatory) of the cloister, which was hemmed in by buildings no longer maintained and so was in a state of permanent dampness. A former bakery and a dwelling-house, partly collapsed, leaning against one wall of the north transept were demolished. This allowed the discovery of hidden parts of the Abbey church and cloister. The local school, built in the mid-19th century in the choir of the Abbey church, and which should have been demolished, has been kept so as not to shake the vault above it. The school’s roof has been lowered and its façade restored. Begun in 2009, work to demolish damp parasitic buildings, to clear the ground in order to uncover the original level of the cloister’s walkway and central garden, to partially restore the apse and north transept, was completed in 2010.
The third phase of the work on the monument focused on the roofing of the Abbey chateau. Starting in 2011, the restoration of the roofing of the great hall and south tower was undertaken. This work was carried out in two stages. First, in 2012, the roof structure of the west wing of the chateau was modified to restore the original pitch and covering of flat tiles. In 2013 work continued on the south tower with the putting in place of new oak roof timbers covered by flat tiles, the renewal of the tops of the buttresses and wall levels, the fixing of a stone finial to crown the turret, and the installation of a new lightning conductor.
The next stage must address the reinforcement of the bell-tower, the major vestige of the Abbey, as serious fissures have appeared in its stonework. The problems appearing at the beginning of the 20th century, which drove the demolition of the spire, were addressed by various reinforcement measures (tie-rods, hooping, cement in-fills). These have today proved inadequate; they also spoil the appearance of the building.
The logical follow-on to these works will be to renew the façades of the Abbey chateau, and to improve and fit out its rooms, which belong to the commune. The acquisition of properties still in private hands is the crucial condition that must be met in order to implement the whole project for the restoration of the ruins of the Abbey of Saint Maurin.