In Sylvio Curmondo's humble opinion - if a phenomenon could occur in some cases, for the reasons cited above, the rest is the brilliant work of Compagnons and to them alone. In such a complex structure, it is impossible to attribute to others than specialists, holders of ancient secrets, a work of such high demand, coupled with incredible regularity. Some of these steeples could bend or sag under their own weight or years of violent elements. But a steeple intentionally twisted proves otherwise very difficult. We know that some steeples are twisted halfway, then become straight. A good example is the church of Saint-Martin-de-Vertou, in the Fontaine-Guérin department of France. With his dexterity, the Compaganon wanted to show everyone that there is nothing impossible to him who - having knowledge reserved for a tiny elite - is able to achieve what the vulgar may not even dream of understanding.
Here are a few photos of some twisted steeples across the world
The Our-Lady church of Sérignac-sur-Garonne in the Lot-et-Garonne department of France is a roman built edifice dating from the XIth century. The original church steeple was twisted, built in the XVIth century but was forced to come down due to serious structural issues. It was demolished in 1922 by the apprentice carpenter; Léo Poncy, who became Compagnon in 1977. After the demolition a normal low pitched steeple was built.
Léo was approched by other Compagnons with the idea to rebuild the church steeple into its original form. The habitants of the town along with these Compagnons, formed the group "l'Association pour la reconstruction du Clocher de Sérignac". With the help of the General Council and the Municipality, the steeple was rebuilt under the direction of the architect Donadieu in 1988.
The steeple was built using glue-laminated wood. On site, they assembled it on the ground in two parts and lifted into place by a crane. The steeple turns from right to left by 1/8 of a rotation, measures 17 meters high, and covered with slate.
For more information and articles on this subject please refer to the following webpages.
- French Wikipedia page on twisted steeples
- Bilingual case study page on twisted steeples
- Official 'Association Les Clochers Tors d'Europe' webpage
The twisted steeple sparks many disputes among specialists, wanting to be more informed the the other. But we will stand our ground on this statement - some unknowns are particularly eloquent. In fact, no one knows the real reason for these remarkable anomalies that dot the landscape, but little attention is given by motorists that pass by. The vast majority of these steeples is in octagonal shape on plan view. Some turn from right to left while others turn from left to right. Of all the different rotations they never exceed an eighth of a turn, which on such height, is only a marginal percentage, but yet it is enough to gain the interest of a casual observer.
Click here to view a map of all the twisted steeples around the world
Restrictive or esoteric harvesting methods, formerly used for cutting and drying wood, have not prevented the carpentry to twist or move, any more than modern methods, which now we cut down trees in almost all seasons and use only sawn beams. It should be noted that there are twisted steeples of all ages. It goes without saying that the villagers saw their steeple perform rather unusual movements, this puzzled them. The popular imagination gave free rein and aroused fairy tales or jokes and often revolve around the devil, who would, for many reasons, undermine the local religious building. More interesting is the influence of the wind, which had exercised a sort of twisting force blowing in the same direction. This hypothesis seems very risky and can only be explained in the case of light and fragile structures. Some have mentioned the rain, after the loss of some slate, others have claimed that some carpenters urinated to mark there spot. All this, of course, demonstrates that a legend or myth is created with the free mind and creativity of the locals to help explain these rather unusual movements in the steeples.
A short video explaining the deformation of a twisted steeple at the church in Havre, France
On purpose or by accident?
We're not here to revive a controversy where in the past it has made a lot of ink and saliva to flow. It is certain that we can ask, when we find ourselves in face with over one hundred and seven twisted steeples across Europe, whether or not if they have been built this way or if it is a natural accident.
In my personal opinion, some are done on purpose and others by accident. The best way to find out is to climb into the steeple and observe the joinery details.
Nevertheless, where we do have an answer, for the ones in France, we can say the intentional ones are for the most part master pieces of Compagnons. continued.......
Emile Delataille 'Art du Trait Pratique de Charpente' B. Cabanie 'Charpente General Theorique et Pratique'
According to some, this may be the biggest 'mystery' in carpentry. The twisted steeple, crooked spire, or as the french call it 'flèche torse' or 'clocher tors'. It has many names. A simple google search in English wont bring up much more then the Church of St Mary and All Saints in Chesterfield, England. However, for those of you who can read french, a simple google search of 'flèche torse' or 'clocher tors' will bring up much more. Coincidence? For the French to be the most in-depth with 'le trait' and have the most twisted steeples, 65* to be exact. Next up to them is the Germans with 22* and England with only 3*. The earliest known technical drawing, or 'epure', of a twisted steeple is from the frenchmen Nicolas Fourneau in his book 'L'art du trait de charpenterie' printed in 1768. Three other notable carpenters that created 'epures' of a twisting steeple is Louis Mazerolle, in his book printed in 1866 'Traite Theorique et Pratique de Charpente', Emile Delataille in his book printed in 1890 'Art du Trait Pratique de Charpente', and B. Cabanie in his book printed in 1864 'Charpente General Theorique et Pratique'.
*according to 'Association Les Clochers Tors d'Europe'