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Exhibition La Pierre de Caen


19 June – 31 October 2010

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The exhibition tour

4- Twenty centuries of heritage in Caen stone

It was not until the Romanization of Gaul that stone buildings came to be preferred to housing made of earth and timber. Rural homes were then made with stone bases, using the stone available on the spot, upon which rested a superstructure made of wood and cob. Only the corners of the wall called for a special search for bigger blocks that could be squared up to strengthen the building. In wealthy Gallo-Roman housing such as we find at Vieux la Romaine, Caen Stone was already being used for its recognized qualities: whiteness, easy cutting, frost resistance… Hence it was used along with various marbles and precious mosaics.

Photo : Medallion, 1180. Canterbury CathedralWith the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, the knowhow involved in building in stone was lost. The one notable exception to this vanished technique, the Upper Middles Ages were characterized by large-scale use of sarcophagi to bury the dead. These were mass produced and distributed throughout the region.

With the growth of Christianity, architectural research made rapid advances and Caen Stone was a natural accompaniment for the art of sculpture. Masons were on the lookout for stone with such qualities, especially one so easy to cut. The Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles all helped to produce many buildings both within and beyond the city of Caen. The great town planning operations of the 18th century, masterminded notably by the Intendant Fontette, helped to draw the old town out of its medieval enclosure, which had become too constricted and was a real brake on growth.

It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that interest in Caen Stone went into a steep decline. The reason for this was the advent of new materials like cement and brick, which were cheap to produce and easy to build with. Quarrying almost disappeared altogether by the start of World War II, and the output at the time was insufficient to meet city Reconstruction requirements. Limestone had to be brought in from other areas, sometimes with incompatibilities between the different stone types only coming to light several decades later on.

In 1986, quarrying saw a temporary revival for construction of the Caen Memorial, with its frontage faced with Caen Stone, and mining was resumed at an old 19th century quarry. Once the idea of restarting quarrying was floated, it took several attempts to find a perfect deposit and a team of professionals capable of arranging the contract. Since 2004, the Société des Carrières de la Plaine de Caen has been working the Cintheaux site and supplying Caen Stone to major restoration projects in France, and in England as well.

  1. Geology of Caen Limestone
  2. Quarrying of Caen Stone
  3. The Caen Stone trade
  4. Twenty centuries of heritage in Caen stone

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