Last week’s fire at the Basilique Saint-Donatien in Nantes (excellent photo gallery) provides a good opportunity to talk about the series La grâce d’une cathédrale, and the associated La grâce d’une basilique. Published by La nuée bleue in Strasbourg, these are large format works focused on individual cathedrals and basilicas in France. The full list of published and forthcoming works is available on the series website—each of the extant volumes is available in the UL, and we will purchase the volumes once they are published.
Each volume is directed by the relevant bishop, while the individual chapters are written by archaeologists or art historians. The series itself is directed by Mgr Joseph Doré, the former archbishop of Strasbourg.
These works cover all aspects of the buildings—art history, architecture, archaeology and history of the cathedral and how they were used. Each volume is divided into three parts: history of the building works; a complete description of the cathedral, including the fabric of the building as well as contents and specular treasures; and the life of the cathedral (religious history, political, musical and artistic history of the use of the building).
Looking at COPAC, Cambridge appears to be the only Library in the UK that has consistently collected this series. The volumes provide an in-depth discussion of the history of each building, and are highly illustrated, making them useful reference works for those studying any aspect of these buildings’ history.
They are also, as this fire in Nantes has demonstrated, a useful record of the life of a cathedral at the beginning of the 21st century. It is not entirely clear yet how much of the basilique Saint-Donatien remains, but it is unfortunate that no volume in this series was ever prepared. In fact, the most recent work in the BNF in Paris about this building is a brief 60 page book with black and white illustrations.
The volume on the Cathedral of Nantes (S950.a.201.2470) contains a chapter about its own destructive fire, in 1972, caused by a welder. The works to repair the cathedral from that fire took three years, and cost a great deal. It will be interesting to see what emerges about the final damages at the basilica, and the cause of the fire.