"It won't be easy, but it will be worth it"
Escrimis La Chapelle is located along the valley between the towns of Condom and Mezin. It is thought to have 13th Century 'Templar' origins and would have been part of the network of small rural chapels dotted along pilgrimage routes.
Over the past few years the chapel had fallen into disrepair. It became unstable and, in 2017, a large part of the outer Southern wall collapsed. It was clear that in order to preserve the unique little chapel, major renovation was needed. The current owners Alan and Jayne Barlow, conscious that they are the present custodians of a fascinating historic building which, over the centuries, has provided space over the centuries for various uses, wanted to ensure that only top quality local traditional artisan workmen would undertake this work.
It is thought that the chapel had spent hundreds of years being used as a barn and cart store by the farmers who worked the vineyard and fruit orchards surrounding it. The first task was to empty the structure of the massive heaps of old vines and wood that had piled up, covered in layers of dirt and dust. Alan undertook the filthy job, but as the space was cleared, it was exciting to reveal stone columns up the wall and windows and arches that had been blocked up for a very long time.
On parts of the wall, small areas of limestone plaster were still visible painted with simple oak leaves and 'fleur de lys' in a plain dark red paint. The chapel would probably have been completely plastered internally at some time; it would have been decorated all over with these flora and fauna designs and it must have looked extremely pretty.
The floor was laid with amazing huge old flagstones, but many parts of it were badly damaged or missing. The roof was precarious, and the large oak struts were rotten and in danger of collapsing.
The chapel was finally cleared, plans were drawn up, and experts hired. The renovation began in 2018.
A huge amount of equipment was needed, including a large crane to move the enormous amount of very heavy stone. Through extreme heat, heavy rain and mud the fantastic team of men worked tirelessly, turning up at 6am on the hottest days. Covered in dust from stone cutting and spending hours in rebuilding the damaged walls; it was a long painstaking job, but gradually their back breaking work meant that the chapel was structurally sturdy. For the first time in hundreds of years, light streamed back through the arrow loop windows and arched door; life was being breathed back into the chapel.
The enormous timbers were secured onto the roof, dangling precariously from the crane as the roofers guided them in. The lovely original tiles that had carefully been removed from old roof were re-hung. This was necessary to keep the aesthetics of the chapel. It was also extremely important to use as much of the original stone from the tumbled down wall as possible. Sadly, it was not practical to re-lay the large flagstones from the original interior floor, but the stones were used in the renovation of the walls, windows and stone seating that runs around the interior. No stones were wasted, everything was recycled back into the building.
The walls were rendered in the traditional way with a lime plaster, a long messy job which concluded with the masons brushing off all the excess plaster with wire brushes; hard work on the hands and elbows but the transformation was stunning.
Finally, the 'ferroniere' moved in to begin his task of making the windows and doors including the huge metal arched door on the front of the chapel. This was quite a feat.
In December 2019, the works were completed, and the building looked amazing, thanks to the most wonderful team of local workmen and skilled craftsmen. A celebration carol concert seemed an appropriate event to celebrate new beginnings for the chapel. For the first time in probably hundreds of years, the chapel echoed to the sounds of voices singing.
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