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Exhibition La Pierre de Caen

19 June – 31 October 2010

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The exhibition tour

3- The Caen Stone trade

Photo :  Spire of the Abbey Church of Saint-Etienne in CaenThe abundant use of Caen Stone in the ancient constructions of Vieux la Romaine proves that there was already a trade in Caen Stone at that time and that the existing infrastructures made it possible to transport blocks weighing several tonnes.

However it was the 11th century that saw Caen Stone become a much sought-after product. Following his victory at Val-es-Dunes in 1047, Duke William turned Caen, then still a small harbour town, into a major city. The simultaneous building of the castle and of two abbeys called for colossal amounts of stone. This led to many quarries opening to meet the demand for the building work.

After the Conquest of England in 1066, William the Conqueror constructed or restored many buildings across the Channel, the Tower of London being unquestionably the most emblematic of these. Local stone resources were well-nigh non-existent in 11th century England, and so naturally enough they turned to the market in Caen, which was perfectly organized and able to supply stone in large quantities. The vast system of English rivers meant you could sail far inland all the way up to the building site. Paradoxically and despite the distances involved, sea transport was easier and cheaper than overland, for which the price of stone was estimated to double over a distance of fifteen kilometres (10 mi).

Photo : Canterbury CathedralUp until the 19th century, England was the main foreign outlet for Caen Stone. It was used there for the cathedrals or abbeys of Canterbury, Westminster, Chichester, Rochester, Durham, Norwich… Also in castles at Oxford, Bristol and Cardiff, Buckingham Palace, Eton College, Hatfield House…

In France, Caen Stone was used at Mont Saint-Michel, Rennes, Beauport Abbey, in Le Havre…

Caen Stone is also to be found in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and even the United States.

On being disrupted by World War I and the advent of new materials, quarrying of the stone and hence trade dropped to virtually nil at the turn of the 20th century. In the early 1970s, just two small operations remained.

Today the Caen Stone trade is once more flourishing, with a quarry reopening at Cintheaux some fifteen kilometres (10 mi) south of Caen, Caen Stone being used for restoring the city’s monuments and again for export to the UK. More astonishingly, a recent order was dispatched to Saudi Arabia…

  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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