Published on: Amended:
The Royal Chapel of the Palace of Versailles, the last major project undertaken during the reign of Louis XIV, is undergoing meticulous restoration which should be completed within 18 months.
The complex cleaning and restoration work of its stained glass windows, statues and other extraordinary elements is being carried out under the strictest security measures to avoid any repetition of the fire which severely damaged Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in April .
Reign of the Sun King
The chapel was completed in 1710 after more than a decade of work during the last years of the reign of Louis XIV, the so-called Sun King who reigned for 72 years and was famous for the splendor of his court.
The restoration concerns the frames, the decorative plumbing, the statues and the stained glass windows.
Workers restore the stone carvings in the walls using photographs to ensure full fidelity to the original.
The restoration is literally under wraps, with the chapel surrounded by a drop cloth that conceals the restoration work from visitors queuing to enter the palace.
The canvas, which evokes the interior of the majestic structure, covers a network of scaffolding with the statues of holy figures that spring from the ironwork.
Restoring the chapel was “one of the urgent priorities” when Catherine Pegard, a former journalist, took charge of the palace complex in 2011, she said.
The restoration is only the second major work of its kind on the building in its history, the last having taken place from 1875 to 1878, when France was weakened by war with Prussia and could not devote much resources to work.
“Today we are doing it because Versailles deserves it,” said Frédéric Didier, the architect in charge of the restoration.
“The work is taking place under the strictest conditions, in particular after the fire which broke out at Notre-Dame on April 15, while the great cathedral of Paris was itself being restored.”
Experts regularly check every potential danger point, and thermal cameras and smoke detectors are in place throughout the site.
This will prevent any chance of the Notre-Dame tragedy being repeated at Versailles, said Sophie Lemonnier, Head of Heritage and Palace Gardens.
The first two stages of the restoration are expected to cost some 16 million euros helped by 11 million euros of funds from the Swiss foundation Philanthropia as well as money from the French building and construction materials company Saint-Gobain.
Pegard also relies on private donations to restore six of the 28 monumental statues that adorn the exterior of the chapel. Restoration work is expected to be completed in 2020.