Vandalism of a Neo-gothic chapel in Alsace

1. Johan Van Soolen
Chapelle Herzog, Wintzenheim
In the foreground, gargoyles removed in 1980
Condition in 2007
Photo : All rights reserved

The Herzog chapel in the Logelbach district of Wintzenheim, near Colmar, bears the name of its commissioners, an industrialist family headed by Antoine Herzog (1786-1861) and his sons Antoine (1816-1892) and Eugène (1819-1858) [1]. This elegant Neo-gothic building of pink granite (ill. 1), inspired by the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, was erected in 1860 and designed by the architect Johann van Soolen, then consecrated in 1862. The apse looks south, contrary to custom. The outside is decorated with statues : on the sides, ten apostles (two are missing, either because they were never sculpted or due to looting) and on the two small towers of the façade, the patron saints of the Herzog family, Saint Eugene and Saint Anthony. All of these figures are of gray granite and probably due to the work of Henri Fonderie, a French sculptor born in The Hague in 1836, also responsible for the tympanum of the portal representing Christ on the Cross Surrounded by the Virgin and Saint John.

2. « Si j’avais un marteau... »
Vandalism on The Herzog chapel in Wintzenheim,
listed in the Inventaire supplémentaire
des monuments historiques
June 2009
Photo : All rights reserved

In 1984, the chapel was acquired by the city and all of it listed in the Inventaire des Monuments Hisotoriques, including the sculptures. In the minutes of a meeting of the Commission régionale du Patrimoine historique, archélogique et ethnologique of 20 June 1994 which was to pronounce itself on its listing, the record states that M. Bischoff, representing the Fédération des societies d’histoire d’Alsace : “considers that the ‘Sainte Chapelle du Logelbach’ is the most exceptional Neo-gothic monument of Haute-Alsace. He points out the excellent quality of the sculpture which he compares to that of Reims in the 13the century.” This listing, requested subsequently by the city, was recommended unanimously by the commission minus an abstention of five votes (out of eighteen) but it was finally refused by the Commission supériure des Monuments Historiques. Although the refusal points out that due to damage from rain some of the sculpted elements were very deteriorated, notably the gargoyles which had been removed several years ago (they are today on the esplanade, in front of the building ; ill. 1) and that the cornice was in danger of falling, there is no mention anywhere of the full-size statues being in poor condition.

3. Ascribed to Henri Fonderie (1836- ?)
Saint John
Grey sandstone
Wintenheim, chapelle Herzog
On the left, condiction
on the 21/6/09 ; on the
right, condition on the 26/6/09
Photo : All rights reserved

4. Ascribed to Henri Fonderie (1836- ?)
Saint Matthew
Grey sandstone
Wintenheim, chapelle Herzog
On the left, condiction
on the 21/6/09 ; on the right, condition on the 26/6/09
Photo : All rights reserved

The photographs in this article prove the quality of the statuary [2] . Unfortunately, these are now only a souvenir : the protection provided by the Monuments Historiques did not keep the mayor, Serge Nicole, without informing the Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles, of ordering a local company to “purge” these statues and sculpted decorative elements, claiming that they endangered public safety (ill. 2 to 9). It is easy to see that the works have been ruined beyond repair, notably the faces (except for that of Saint Thomas) after being totally hammered away. The mayor answered our questions by saying that these measures were taken “for safety reasons” and based his statement on two “reports” – these are in fact two letters of two pages each from the offices of the Monuments Historiques dated respectively 1996 and 2004 – to justify his action.

5.Ascribed to Henri Fonderie (1836- ?)
Saint Barthélemy
Grey sandstone Wintenheim, chapelle Herzog. On
the left, condiction on
the 21/6/09 ; on
the right, condition on the 26/6/09
Photo : All rights reserved

6. Ascribed to Henri Fonderie (1836- ?)
Saint Thomas
Grey sandstone Wintenheim, chapelle Herzog On
the left, condiction on the 21/6/09 ; on the
right, condition
on the 26/6/09
Photo : All rights reserved

The mayor faxed us these documents. In the first one (1996), the architect of the Bâtiments de France lists the problems in the chapel. These include the poor condition of several sections of the upper railing which might fall off, as well as a gargoyle on the south-east corner. As for the sculptures, he points out that they are “deteriorated” with no specific details, and adds simply that Saint Bartholomew (ill. 5) “is flaking off at several points”. He in no way says that these sculptures might represent any type of danger. In the second letter from 2004, also signed by the architect of the Bâtiments de France who had changed in the meantime, the pink granite railings are again mentioned as being very deteriorated, that three have been removed and that the remaining eight are safety hazards “although the side façades are not accessible to the public”. He adds : “The sculptures of gray granite could also be cleaned”, thus proving that they are not dangerous as he only recommends that they be “cleaned”. The architect ends his letter by pointing out that “work on buildings listed on the supplementary list of the Monuments Historiques should file an official report with the regional prefect [and that] any work carried out on a listed building required a building permit”.

7. Ascribed to Henri Fonderie (1836- ?)
Saint Andrew
Grey sandstone
Wintenheim, chapelle Herzog
Condition on the 29/6/09 after vandalism
Photo : All rights reserved

8. Ascribed to Henri Fonderie (1836- ?)
Saint Paul
Grey sandstone Wintenheim, chapelle Herzog Condition
the 29/6/09 after vandalism
Photo : All rights reserved

We therefore do not understand what there is in both these letters (the most recent being five years old !), that might justify the hammering of sculptures protected by the Monuments Historiques. If these statues were a threat to public safety, this would not apply to visitors as they cannot access the façades directly since they are behind a fence. Should it become necessary to prevent falling stones (and the photographs show this does not seem to be the case currently, as the statues seemed to be in rather good condition before the “purge”), a protective net would solve the problem until a restoration is carried out. In any case, the DRAC should have been contacted.

9. Chapelle Herzog, east side
Condiction on the 26/6/09 after vandalism
Photo : All rights reserved

This agency however told us that it had not been informed and even less, issued an authorization. It was notified only recently. The DRAC is going to ask city hall for an explanation and hopes to recover any debris (ill. 10) saved by the company in order to restore the sculptures. This seems totally hopeless : it is highly unlikely that any pieces might be in good enough condition after having been hammered off and fallen to the ground.

10. Chapelle Herzog, east side
Condition on the 26/6/09 after the vandalism
Debris after the destruction
On the photo, we can see the grates which
forbid the acces
Photo : All rights reserved

We initially wrote that it seemed astonishing that an elected official not know that work on historical monuments – and even more so any damage or destruction – is impossible without the authorization of the DRAC. Such ignorance would not have exonarated the mayor of Wintzenheim from his responsibility. As it turns out, the letter from 2004, and which he quotes to justify his acts, clearly explains that he had no right to proceed in this manner. He therefore was fully aware and behaved knowingly.
Let us recall that vandalism of protected historical monuments is punishable by law. In 2008, the Ministry of Justice and that of Culture even obtained heavier sentences (see news item of 6/8/08). Article 714-1 of the Code du patrimoine provides : “The destruction, damage or deterioration is punishable with seven years prison and a fine of 100,000€ when it concerns a listed, registered or protected building or piece of furniture […]”. This is the case here.

Since the Code du patrimoine was recently reformed, owners are responsible for the supervision of work on historical monuments. A restoration of the chapel, in any case now necessary, will thus be supervised by Wintzenheim city hall. No doubt about it, we seem to have lost our heads.

Version française

Didier Rykner, dimanche 6 septembre 2009


[1] The historical information provided in this article was found in the inventory file of the Monuments historiques for the chapel which we consulted at the Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du patrimoine, section Archives courantes et documentation immeuble.

[2] Totally by accident, one of our readers had taken photographs of the eastern façade on 21 June 2009, three days before the incident. We do not have photographs for the western façade previously.

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