Cathedral Collapse Crushes Congregants

This is the third post of seven, each a response to Kate Shrewsday’s request for an itinerary of MTM’s Seven Architectural Wonders. Each text post has a corollary visual post; the text and image posts will alternate between the blogs of Kate Shrewsday and the Andra Watkins. Since I (MTM) am no longer a paid pedant, I will try to make these as entertaining and enlightening as possible in 600 words or less. One ground rule: I cannot include a work of architecture I have not experienced directly and personally, just as one’s list of Great Books should not include a book one hasn’t yet read.

 To see the images of Beauvais Cathedral for this third post please click here!

Dateline 1573; Beauvais, France. The tower of the Cathedral of Saint Peter of Beauvais collapsed yesterday, another tragic failure of this bedeviled church structure. The worst is feared, as the collapse occurred in the middle of the Ascension Day Mass. The number of casualties is unknown, as workers are still digging through the massive pile of debris.

Rector Pierre was in the apse collecting the offerings when he heard a thunderous cracking, followed by a loud crash and a huge cloud of dust. “In the midst of my collections, all of the candles went out. I was sure it was the end of the world.”

Brother Simon Louis also survived the disaster. “I was ministering Penance to Mrs. Lam…I mean a congregant, and in the middle of our fourth Hail Mary, the whole confessional started shaking. We weren’t able to escape our cubicles, but it was a miracle, as the entire confessional was covered in debris, but we were protected. God bless those who may not have been so fortunate.”

It is the second major collapse of the structure. Less than 300 years ago, a whole section of the choir fell, a disaster that was eventually blamed on an overambitious master-builder. Many have said that Beauvais Cathedral has been an accident waiting to happen ever since, as it continued to push the envelope of modern stone masonry capabilities.

A mason who asked that his name not be used as he is still working at the site said it was inevitable. “They keep trying to build taller and taller, and we are being pushed to carve the stones narrower and thinner. They say it is to make the cathedral ‘more ethereal’ but we all know how over-budget and behind schedule the project is, so certainly they are trying to save money on materials. It is the wrath of Heaven meant to stop this madness, I tell you.”

Bishop Guillaume de Grez IV denies the charges. “We have always known this cathedral would take centuries to build. The congregation has been steadfast in providing all the funding we need. This tragic accident was exactly that—an accident. It is so unfortunate, given that we had already topped out the tower at over 500 feet. It was so beautiful; it looked like it was floating, aloft above the church. We have every confidence in our Master Mason, and will begin rebuilding as soon as we have cleared the crossing.”

Experts are more cautious. “We have only completed putting up braces and temporary buttresses. We need to make sure the church is stable,” said Eugene Viollet le Duc. “Beauvais is one of the most beautiful churches in the world. It is the Parthenon of the French Gothic, I would say. The stone piers are mere filaments, allowing the light to pour through the stained glass. To be inside Beauvais is as close to being in Heaven on Earth.”


32 thoughts on “Cathedral Collapse Crushes Congregants

  1. Impressive building indeed, but my preferred method of getting to heaven is not via tons of masonry piled on my cranium. It doesn’t ‘stand’ the test of time too well, does it?

  2. The photos are amazing, but, the text is really scary. Hard to believe that contractors cutting corners existed in the 1200’s especially since they were being supported by the unlimited largesse of the church. It is a beautiful building, no doubt about that.

  3. so certainly they are trying to save money on materials. It is the wrath of Heaven meant to stop this madness, I tell you.” I want to use that phrase at the next value engineering meeting I have to attend. Thanks Michael for this great series! Loved yesterdays post on the Barcelona pavilion too. So far that is the only site you’ve chosen that I have had the pleasure of experiencing first hand.

  4. If someone had offered architecture to me in this fashion when I was young and impressionable, I might be a wholly different sort of person. Fantastic delivery. Now off to see the photos!

  5. The final photograph on the other blog that shows the architect’s exterior design is like tracery. It’s like a spider’s web. Ethereal. Like lace. Amazing. I’ve never before seen this cathedral or even heard about it.

    And your news report reminds me that throughout the centuries people have been pretty much the same–with the same reactions to events and the same placing of blame.

    How long have the modern buttresses been there?


  6. MTM, you missed your calling as a journalist! Perhaps you will soon be writing a column on architecture for USA Today? OR the NY Times? Your writing does make it far more interesting than the average: “The transept is constructed of …..” blather of usual architectural or historical authors.

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