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Steve Turner By Steve Turner • February 3, 2017

French Limestone Blocks for Canterbury Cathedral

French limestone blocks for Canterbury Cathedral

The Lavoux limestone quarry in France has been supplying "six sides sawn" blocks for the renovation work in several UK cathedrals including Canterbury cathedral. 

Canterbury cathedral - French limestoneCanterbury cathedral was originally founded in 597 AD. It was then completely rebuilt using Caen limestone around 1070 AD in the early days of the Norman Conquest. The design was based on the Abbaye de St Etienne in Caen in Normandy, France.

With good supplies of Caen limestone becoming more difficult to get, Lavoux limestone was approved for the recent renovation of the Great South Window in the cathedral. It will also be used in the next phase of renovation work.

Lavoux is similar in character and appearance to Caen stone and had already been approved for the restoration work in York Minster and Winchester Cathedrals some years earlier.

Caen limestone six sides sawn

An example of French limestone supplied as "six sides sawn" blocks 

The new blocks of limestone were delivered to the Cathedral's own stonemasons as "six sides sawn" blocks in the dimensions that they specified. The masons then set to work to transform them into the complicated shapes required for the tracery sections of the The Great South Window. In the mason's workshop, the pieces are far more intricate than one would imagine when looking at the finished window.

Lavoux tracery stone Canterbury - freshly cut French limestoneLavoux tracery stone prior to installation in the Canterbury Cathedral Great South WIndow

Canterbury's masons did an astounding job of shaping each block of stone as every piece had to be custom made to fit an exact location. 

Lavoux French limestone blocks Canterbury Cathedral tracery
Mason Emlyn Harris shows me the Lavoux limestone tracery sections in place in the Great South Window

The stained glass, some of it dating back to the 11th century, was restored and re-installed once the window had been rebuilt. (The work to restore the stained glass throughout the cathedral is an ongoing process and has been running for at least 20 years already.) The skill of the masons and the glass people is hugely impressive and probably goes unnoticed by the majority of visitors to the cathedral. During the restoration, I was lucky enough to be invited up to the top of the scaffolding to get a close up view of the inside of the window. From there, it's easier to appreciate the detail and the care that went into the work.

The Lavoux French limestone has been used in several different areas of the cathedral and further work with Lavoux has now been approved. In addition, two new statues  on display outside the cathedral were carved from Lavoux limestone.

Nina Bilbey said of the Lavoux stone, "probably the most beautiful blocks of stone I've had the pleasure of carving"

The statues of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were also carved from the same Lavoux limestone. Nina Bilbey, the sculptor, was very complimentary about the quality of the stone blocks that she used for the sculptures. If you have ever wondered how such sculptures are created, Nina's web site describes this fascinating process. I would urge you to visit Nina's site and scroll through her series of photographs:

The Canterbury and Historical Archaeology web site has a page on the Lavoux limestone. Visit their site: Canterbury Archaeology Org

If you want to know more about French limestone, please call or email. We will be pleased to hear from you.

Steve Turner
Office: +44 (0)345 260 8070

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