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Exhibition La Pierre de Caen

19 June – 31 October 2010

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photo : Apse of St Pierre’s Church in Caen. 1852 (Musée de Normandie)

What do the Tower of London and Caen Castle have in common ? Or Canterbury Cathedral and the abbey church of Saint-Etienne? The Conqueror’s destiny, no doubt, but also the stone used to build these monuments. Caen Stone, such a familiar item of our heritage and our architectural landscape, is this year going on show in the Salles du Rempart space in Caen Castle in an exhibition which we invite you to pursue further in the city itself and right into the heart of our underground heritage. The castle site is particularly well suited to this evocation of the City’s heritage.

Caen Stone came into being 165 million years ago through the unlikely conjunction of several geological factors. Used in architecture already back in ancient times, it has been a great success ever since. The qualities of this outstanding limestone were recognized locally, and also in England, or the USA, for which several hundred tonnes of stone were mined in the quarries of Caen, Fleury sur Orne, Conteville and Bretteville sur Laize. Bermuda Cathedral is undoubtedly the most exotic example of any edifice built out of our famous stone. However, through its historic ties with Normandy dating back to the 11th century, England remained the largest importer of Caen stone up until the 18th century.

After going into decline in the early 20th century, when the Great War upset the market, mining was resumed, for the restoration first of the monuments of Caen and then of the English monuments. From nearly ten centuries of operations there now remains a substantial heritage linked to the mining work. The city of Caen alone has over 80 hectares (200 acres) of underground galleries and numerous opencast mine cutting edges that are still visible. The heritage of monuments that has been preserved is exceptional both in France and in other countries.

The exhibition will be a chance to take stock of the matchless career of Caen stone, and the difficult task of the quarry workers and masons who extracted it from the subsoil or used it as a building material.

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