Notre-Dame de Royan church, a total work of art

With its concrete structure, theChurch of Our Lady of Royan catches the eye as soon as you arrive at the seaside resort. Whether you arrive by land or by sea, you only see Notre-Dame. It is thus visible from everywhere and displays no frills. The building is so imposing that it is often mistakenly called "cathedral".

I see her ! That she is beautiful ! A large dark vessel stands above this universal exhibition that is the new Royan: the Church of Guillaume Gillet. She is daughter of the estuary and the sea, but not to this city or to this people. It looks as if this high ship, with its jagged black sails, has run aground there, and its flag is that of an unknown country. This church may well be made of concrete, yet it comes to us from the depths of the centuries, it partakes of styles from which it has borrowed nothing.'

Length of the video: 1 minute 31

The reconstruction of Royan as an origin

At the end of World War II, the Allied bombings of January 5, 1945 destroyed in particular the old Notre-Dame church (located at the time on the site of the current place Charles De Gaulle). In 1953, the new mayor of the city of Royan made this request to the architect Guillaume Gillet:

I want Royan not to be a city lying down, but a city standing up: straighten it up with the silhouette of the church.'

Built from 1955 and blessed in 1958, the Notre-Dame de Royan church symbolizes the city once again upright and proud. The reinforced concrete monument is thus part of the general movement for the renewal of sacred art after the sad events experienced by the world in the 1940s. It is considered today as a feat and a masterpiece. work of modern architecture.

Between art and technology

Listed as a Historic Monument in 1988, the church can accommodate up to 2 people.

The 24 “V” shaped pillars (Lafaille system) alternate with large vertical windows to surround the ellipse 50 meters long and 30 meters wide. Thin veils inclined at the foot then come to counter these elements and ensure the coverage of the aisles. The so-called "horse saddle" roof is stretched by two facing parabolic arches. It covers the church with a thickness of only 8 cm. The steeple rises to 56 meters high.

Notre-Dame de Royan interior view

Inside, the difference in height between the entrance to the west and the forecourt to the east contributes to the great theatricality of Notre-Dame. The surprise is all the greater for the visitor as the interior architectural spectacle contrasts with the decorative sobriety of the exterior. Here, everything is big, everything is high.

All of the canopies occupies 500 m2. They consist of both geometric and abstract shapes. The master glassmaker Henri-Martin Granel is experimenting in Royan with the process of white glass laid on edge and embedded in cement joints binding the glass slabs. The stained glass then takes on the appearance of a glass sculpture with three-dimensional effects. In the passageway of the aisles, the diamond-shaped stained glass windows first illustrate the Stations of the Cross in a stylized and refined way. Behind the high altar, the choir window in the shape of a triangle is the work of Claude Idoux. He uses Baccarat crystal to represent the Assumption of the Virgin.

Did you know?

Production Designer and Series Decorator " Game Of Thrones " were inspired by the interior of Notre-Dame de Royan for the audience hall in Dragonstone.

Restorations needed for the Notre-Dame de Royan church

The construction site lasted only 3 years. But reinforced concrete, made up of pebbles, sand, cement and steel, has a lifespan that depends on the quality of these elements. For the Notre-Dame church, the concrete comes from the poor quality sands of theGironde estuary to which is added sea salt. Over the years, the building has suffered from carbonation of the surface concrete. Of the restoration campaigns must therefore be carried out regularly to save the condition and appearance of Notre-Dame de Royan.

The Great Organ of Notre-Dame Church

In 1962, Royan asked Robert Boisseau to build an organ for his church. In the gallery on the west facade (above the entrance), you have to turn around to admire it. The work was inaugurated in 1964 and completed in 1984. First “large sixteen foot” organ in hammered pewter built since the 47th century, it is classified as a Historic Monument. Composed of 3600 stops and XNUMX pipes, it is the most imposing instrument in Charente-Maritime. Specialists consider it an exceptional instrument.

Organ of Our Lady of Royan

The organ is very popular with Royannais during services at Notre-Dame, but also by summer visitors during the cultural season. Some years, during "A Violin on the Sand" festival on the Grande Conche beach in Royan, the organ of Notre-Dame church plays in duplex (live audio and video link) with the symphony orchestra to the delight of the 60 spectators.

The legacy of Guillaume Gillet

Guillaume Gillet is the main architect of Notre-Dame de Royan. He considered the building his masterpiece.

When the mayor of Royan contacts him, his memories of childhood vacations in Pontaillac undoubtedly come back to him. In 1946, he obtained the First Grand Prize for Architecture in Rome. His convictions come in particular from the teaching he received at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He is keen to innovate with new materials such as reinforced concrete. Following the call of the mayor of Royan, he joined forces with the engineer Bernard Lafaille to jointly design the future project of the Notre-Dame de Royan church.

Guillaume Gillet offers in his work, a balance between assumed modernity and respected tradition. For him, the technical solutions command the style of the structure. For Notre-Dame de Royan, his conviction of having to build an exceptional monument directs his choices: the power of the forms, the imposing height, the Gothic tradition of alternating pillars and windows...

When he presented his church to his friend François Mauriac in 1961, the latter said to him: “How happy your father would have been to see this church! ". He replies: “He sees her…”.

Did you know?

According to his wishes, the ashes of Guillaume Gillet are transferred in 1996, in the ambulatory of the church.

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