Le Bon Pasteur and Saint Bernard, Two Endangered Churches in the Heart of Lyon


The lack of protection of French heritage is a proven fact still ignored by too many people. While classifying or listing a historical monument is no guarantee that it will be preserved, not doing so makes it even more difficult to save endangered buildings.
This is exactly the case for two churches of the Croix-Rousse in Lyon, comparable for their date of construction and the presence in both of very beautiful stained-glass windows by Lucien Bégule.


1. Clair Tisseur (1827-1896) et
Joseph-Etienne Malaval (1842-1898)
Church Le Bon Pasteur in Lyon
Photo : Didier Rykner

2. Clair Tisseur (1827-1896)
The Facade of the Church Le Bon Pasteur in Lyon
Photo : Didier Rykner


3. Lucien Bégule (1848-1935)
The Theological virtues : Faith, Charity and Hope
Stained-Glass Windows
Condition on 10 January 2011
Since then, the window on the left (Faith)
has been partly broken in the upper arch.
Lyon, Church Le Bon Pasteur
Photo : Thierry Wagner

The first one, the church Le Bon Pasteur, (ill. 1), is in a serious state of imperilment due only to the lack of competent management.
Built between 1875 and 1882, it contains a remarkable ensemble of stained-glass windows by Lucien Bégule. The choir faces north, at the top of the slope, while the doors of the façade open out strangely, onto an empty space (ill. 2), since the parvis initially planned was never completed. The entrance is on the right side, a problem when welcoming the public, as safety requirements limit the number of visitors in order to ensure an efficient exit in case of accidents.
The parish was created on 29 March 1856 by decree [1], the date corresponding to the birth of the Imperial prince, and the church was placed under the patronage of the monarchs who had stated they would become the godparents of any children born that day. The first stone was finally placed on 25 August 1869 by the Empress and the Imperial prince but construction really began only six years later following the architectural design of Clair Tisseur while the spire was erected by his successor, Joseph-Etienne Malaval.


4. Lucien Bégule (1848-1935)
Stained-Glass Windows
Lyon, Church Le Bon Pasteur
Photo : Didier Rykner

5. Lucien Bégule (1848-1935)
Saint Polycarp
Stained-glass window at top of nave
Lyon, Church Le Bon-Pasteur
Photo : Thierry Wagner


Besides the stained-glass windows (ill. 3 to 5), the church holds a certain number of interesting decor pieces and works. In the choir, Tony Tollet produced two mural paintings representing The Gathering of the Manna and Feeding the Multitudes [2]. On the façade, the sculptor Jules Comparat executed the three tympanums (ill. 6 and 7) in about 1879, and inside the church the sculpted décor as well as the pulpit and the master altar.


6. Jules Camparat
Let the little children come to me
Central Tympanum
Lyon, Church Le Bon-Pasteur
Photo : Didier Rykner

7. Jules Camparat
The Adoration of the Magi
Right Tympanum
Lyon, Church Le Bon Pasteur
Photo : Didier Rykner


The building in fact is not suffering from any structural damage. However, its abandonment [3] (it has not been used since 1984) raises questions about its future and also implies serious threats to its conservation.
Since the church is not safeguarded in any way, intruders have entered unhampered and seriously vandalized the interior. The photographs at our disposal are clear enough :


8. Lucien Bégule (1848-1935)
Stained-Glass Window in the Nave, Detail
On the left, condition on 10 January 2011
On the right, condition on 31 January 2012
Lyon, Church Le Bon Pasteur
Photos : Thierry Wagner

9. Lucien Bégule (1848-1935)
Saint Blandina Stained-Glass Window at Top of Nave, Detail
On the left, condition on 10 January 2011
On the right, condition on 31 January 2012
Lyon, Church Le Bon Pasteur
Photos : Thierry Wagner


10. Lucien Bégule (1848-1935)
Stained-glass window in the nave, detail
On the left, condition on 10 January 2011
On the right, condition on 31 January 2012
Lyon, Church Le Bon Pasteur
Photos : Thierry Wagner

- Some of the Lucien Bégule stained-glass windows (ill. 8 to 10) have been partly smashed ; this vandalism is very recent since the pictures taken on 10 January 2011 show that the windows were still intact. This concerns the stained-glass in the nave, of neo-gothic style as well as the remarkable ones on the tribune, located on the back of the façade. Even one of the modern stained-glass windows executed according to Geormillet cartoons (of very fine quality), which replaced the window in the choir [4] destroyed during the fire of 1987, has been smashed at the bottom.
True, for the moment, these damages can be repaired. But how much will have to be spent, when in fact, this depredation could have been perfectly well avoided ?


11. Jules Comparat
Pulpit
Condition on 31 January 2012
Lyon, Church Le Bon Pasteur
Photo : Didier Rykner

12. Jules Comparat
Pulpit
Condition on 31 January 2012
Lyon, Church Le Bon Pasteur
Photo : Didier Rykner


- The stone pulpit is broken, no doubt by blows from a sledgehammer (ill. 11 and 12) ; a photograph taken on 7 November 2008 [5] shows that the damage already existed at the time. And yet, the broken pieces continue to lie on the ground three years later without anyone taking the initiative to put them aside for a future restoration. This seriously compromises the existence of the pulpit and these stone fragments can be used by the vandals to break the windows.


13. Interior of Church of Saint Bernard in Lyon
Condition on 31 January 2012
Photo : Didier Rykner


- Much of the interior, including the stalls and certain sculptures, has been covered in graffiti (ill. 13). The church was used as a studio until 2008 by students from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts nearby (and which has since moved away). Why not ? This was no worse than using it for something else given that it no longer welcomed religious services. But it seems obvious that the elements left behind by the school (bedaubed panels) have incited “visitors” to pursue the work directly on the walls of the building.

14. Marble plaque bearing names of parish members
who died in combat for France, vandalized
In back, the master altar of the church of Saint Bernard, graffitied
Condition on 31 January 2012
Photo : Didier Rykner

The church is therefore in a deplorable state and these first acts of depredation will no doubt encourage others until the building is correctly guarded and, most importantly, until an appropriate use in accordance with its architectural and artistic value has been decided. We can perhaps admit the fact that the resources for restoring the damages are not available. But the fact that no one has taken any steps to provide minimum protection (effective locking of doors, cleaning up of debris, collecting the pieces needed for a future restoration…) is tangible proof of guilt by negligence, at worst the desire to let things deteriorate in order to one day claim the need to destroy the building. A large plaque bearing the names of the fallen for France during the war of 1914-1918 was not respected either, nor was the graffitied altar which can be seen at the back of our photograph (ill. 14). We point out that the church has not been officially deconsecrated.
The lack of an entrance at the façade, preventing the church from welcoming large numbers, should not be an obstacle to its reutilization : since the destruction of the barracks which prevented a stairway from being built, it could now be put in place forming an arch over the rue Neyret. The city of Lyon had in fact at the time promised to construct this access but has still not acted on its word…


15. Tony Desjardin (1814-1882)
Church of Saint Bernard, Lyon
Photo : Didier Rykner

16. Scaffold put to strengthen
the Church of Saint Bernard in Lyon
Condition on 31 January 2012
Photo : Didier Rykner


17. Church of Saint-Bernard
View from the
place Colbert, Lyon
Photo : Didier Rykner

The second church, Saint Bernard (ill. 15), is in the same troubling condition as that of Le Bon Pasteur, but for different reasons, as it is in danger of collapsing. Although the situation appears to have stabilized due to the struts put up by city hall (ill. 16), how can we accept this as satisfactory ? The architecture, designed by Tony Desjardin, although not finished, is beautiful especially since it is harmoniously inserted on the slopes of the Croix-Rousse, and its rising silhouette dominates the Place Colbert (ill. 17). Here also, Lucien Bégule left several stained-glass windows (ill. 18), but one of the most interesting has been damaged by stones after having its exterior protection ripped off (ill. 19).
Of interest also, there is a stained-glass window (by an unidentified studio, but definitely not by Bégule) copying that of Saint Ferdinand by Ingres produced for the chapel of Neuilly which Jacques Foucart had indicated as having a significant legacy.


18. Lucien Bégule (1848-1935)
Saint Veronica and Saint Longinus
Stained-Glass Window
Lyon, Church of Saint Bernard
Photo : Didier Rykner

19. Lucien Bégule (1848-1935)
Let the little children come to me
Stained-Glass Windows
Church of Saint Bernard
Condition on 31 January 2012
There is a hole formed by
a stone thrown from the outside
Photo : Didier Rykner

20. Saint Frederick and Saint Ferdinand
Stained-Glass Windows in the
Church of Saint Bernard
Unidentified Author, but the
Saint Ferdinand is derived from Ingres
Photo : Didier Rykner


What is the city of Lyon waiting for and why does it not take over these two buildings in order to carry out at least the minimum repairs we listed above ? We were able to talk to Georges Kepenekian, deputy mayor in charge of heritage. He seems to be overcome more by fatalism than by any determination to take these two cases in hand : “The church of Le Bon Pasteur and the church of Saint Bernard fall under the responsibility of the real estate department. The cost of the repairs needed is already significant and we are thinking about the best way to carry them out. We have tried to see how to rehabilitate the church of Le Bon Pasteur so that theater companies may work there in a space which is well adapted and high in volume. We intend to launch some studies for this church before the end of the term, and we will study the possibility of carrying out this renovation during the next term.

21. Lucien Bégule Stained-Glass Window
(see ill. 19), seen from the outside
The protective screen is partly ripped off
and the glass has been broken
Lyon, Church of Saint Bernard
Condition on 31 January 2012
Photo : Didier Rykner

There is therefore no hope that the situation will improve in the short term especially since, for the church of Saint Bernard, the deputy mayor confirmed to us that nothing is planned for the next term. Does this mean that even the exterior screens protecting the stained-glass windows cannot be put back (ill. 20) ?
Mr. Kepenekian sent us the heritage convention between the government and the city which is to be signed shortly and which covers the period 2012-2016. Although a certain number of repair projects are planned in some churches (notably Saint Pothin, Saint Irénée and Saint Bruno-des-Chartreux), indeed there is no mention of Le Bon Pasteur nor Saint Bernard which, anyway, are not even considered part of the city’s heritage as they are not listed or classified. They do not appear either in the list of further protection measures provided for in this plan.

The purpose of this article is not to denounce the heritage policy of the city of Lyon as we do not yet have enough elements to judge whether it is either good or bad, not having studied it in detail (unlike the case for Paris, for example). Nevertheless, the planned budget for heritage corresponding to the entire mayoral term, that is 10 million euros, is significantly low for a city the size of Lyon. It is obvious that the lack of interest in these two churches and their stained-glass windows is a problem. Although Saint Bernard, with the structure now stabilized and whose stained-glass (except for the one with the damaged protective screen), as well as furnishings do not appear to be in any danger as yet, can no doubt wait a bit, the case for Le Bon Pasteur is entirely different as it has undergone recent vandalizing which will probably continue if nothing is done soon and whose restoration will be even more expensive later than it is today (in the hope that the stained-glass windows will not be permanently destroyed).

We cannot therefore accept the current status quo regarding these two monuments. And since the protection offered by listing something as a historical monument – which is certainly not a panacea but which at least presents the advantage of acknowledging the artistic or historical importance of a building or a work – depends only, according to the law, on its importance “from the point of view of art history or history”, we officially request, a possibility available to any French citizen, the prompt classification of these two churches and the listing of the stained-glass windows gracing them [6].

We would like to close our article by pointing out, on the subject of Lucien Bégule, an excellent internet website created by Thierry Wagner which attempts to list and eventually publish photographs of all the stained-glass windows created by this master glass artist. The same author – whom we thank kindly for his contribution in helping us write this article – has published a short book on the subject which is available here.

Version française


Didier Rykner, lundi 20 février 2012


Notes

[1] A temporary church had been built at this location.

[2] Unfortunately, we do not have very good photographs.

[3] The actual deconsecration is still awaiting a decision by the bishop.

[4] These first stained-glass windows placed in the church were by Laurent de Tours.

[5] We would like to thank Thierry Wagner for forwarding it to us.

[6] We mailed the request today by registered letter to the DRAC of Rhône-Alpes and we will keep our readers at The Art Tribune informed of the response. In fact, anyone interested in doing so may also send a registered letter supporting this request to the DRAC.



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