In Vendée, a small church escaped destruction thanks to its stained glass windows

In Vendée, a small church escaped destruction thanks to its stained glass windows

The Saint-Hilaire church in Mortagne-sur-Sèvre escaped destruction thanks to the creation of a stained glass interpretation center animating the place alternating with worship.

The dappled reflections of colored lights brighten up the immaculate stone. With each clearing, the sun's rays magnify the interior of the Saint-Hilaire church in Mortagne-sur-Sèvre (Vendée), which has housed the Vendée Vitrail center since 2018 every summer; while, from November to the end of March, “religious period”, services are celebrated there. A unique place that its dual function saved from disappearance.

In 2007, its poor condition led to the closure of the church. Six years later, its destruction was voted for by the majority of the town's 6,000 residents, worried about the very significant costs that the work would generate. But the diocese of Luçon is opposed to it. To raise funds, a solution then emerged: add a cultural dimension to this place of worship. It indeed has three magnificent stained glass windows dated 1935, signed by a master glassmaker from Mortagne, Roger Degas. Their interest is also historical since they recount episodes of the Vendée War such as the commemoration of a clandestine mass and represent local figures. “These works constituted the key element of the restoration,” says Hélène Fortin-Rincé, mediator of the site, with enthusiasm. The town hall joined forces with the department, then obtained European, regional and national funding. In total, 1.2 million euros are invested in the rehabilitation of the church and the creation of the center.

Cult and cultural

Furniture adaptations made it possible to facilitate the transformation of the center into a place of worship and vice versa. The most spectacular: the benches located in the nave have a reversible backrest. With a turn of the arm, the visitor is turned sometimes towards the altar, sometimes towards the opposite, towards the large glass roof by local artist Louis Mazetier. Classified as a historic monument, the ten-meter-high work, commissioned for Notre-Dame de Paris in 1937, but uninstalled due to the war, was sleeping in crates and was loaned to the center. It now constitutes its centerpiece. Whatever the “cult” or “cultural” period, the priest and the mediator do not hesitate to make arrangements if one or the other needs the place. Thus, on May 1, 2024, a pilgrimage organized by the diocese began with a prayer within the church.

A sign of recognition for this innovative development: in June 2023, the Heritage Foundation awarded it the Sesame prize, which rewards projects allowing use compatible with worship. “We cannot imagine the village without the church of Saint-Hilaire. It is the only remarkable monument in the area. The residents have won everything: this thousand-year-old church has regained its brightness and now, it is even heated in winter,” proudly confides Olivier Sourice, 6th deputy mayor in charge of heritage.

The vice-president of the community of communes of Pays de Mortagne, Marcel Brosset adds that the center of the stained glass window “allows us to reach out to the public who go to Puy du fou”. A significant tourist asset for this rural area. During the morning guided tour, little Liam, 3 years old, runs his chubby fingers over the pieces of glass provided. His grandmother, Marylin, who had come from Rouen for a week's vacation in the surrounding area, showed him a calibrating scissor whose three blades impressed the little man.

Welcoming and different

Wandering through the nave, Jacques, 79, carefully reads the explanations on the glass cutting technique. Thoughtfully, he adds: “My grandparents used to bring me here to mass as a child. Churches were places of refuge and welcome… They must remain so. » Two friends in their twenties are sitting in front of Mazetier's stained glass window. Looking at the variations of blue, Amélie recognizes that as an atheist, she is not always comfortable in places of worship: “I sometimes have the impression of setting foot in a stranger's house ”, but here, “it’s different and welcoming,” smiles the communications student.

Among the 6,000 visitors to the site in 2023, most are neither parishioners, nor even regulars in the church pews. For Father Janvier Dusabimana, the evangelization that takes place there is undeniable: “Tourists can enter a little by chance and be touched spiritually by these stained glass windows which have an obvious catechetical role. » While Sylvie Delorme, descendant of Louis Mazetier who came as a visitor, rejoices: “Passing on this know-how is a duty to remember. »

Similar Posts