The Church of St. Trophime in Arles, France, is an important pilgrimage site and the starting point of the Via Tolosana to Santiago de Compostela. Constructed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries—a time of great prosperity in Arles—the church houses some of the world’s finest examples of Romanesque sculpture. St. Trophime stands on the site of a fifth-century basilica dedicated to St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Construction of the adjoining monastic cloister began in the twelfth century, most likely after the church was completed. Its north and east galleries contain extraordinary Romanesque bas-relief sculptures and carved capitals that depict stories from the Bible. The later, fourteenth-century south and west galleries of the cloister contain sculpture with scriptural depictions in the Gothic style. In 1981, Arles’ Roman and Romanesque monuments were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, WMF contributed to the planning of a conservation project for the façade of St. Trophime, which led to an invitation to work with the City of Arles on the conservation of its renowned cloister.
How We Helped
World Monuments Fund first approached the conservation of the cloister in 2008 by analyzing its columns and capitals to determine the best methods for cleaning, repairing, and maintaining the structure. WMF also partnered with CyArk to create laser scans of the cloister that would enable WMF to describe the conservation program through presentation of web-based 3-D models in combination with drawings, high-resolution photography, and narrative descriptions of treatments employed. The project has provided opportunity for the exchange of ideas and technologies through international collaboration, as WMF and local authorities have worked with a wide range of international professionals to understand the needs of the site and develop a treatment program. Colleagues from France, the United States, Greece, and Germany have contributed to the scholarly and technical exchange that was required to understand the best treatment options. In early 2012, following the completion of extensive scientific studies and documentation work, the conservation of the cloister began. On the exterior, the north and east gallery elevations were cleaned and restored, and the terrace pavers re-pointed. Inside the east gallery, the vault’s stone work and sculptures have also been cleaned and restored, and the site’s many columns are currently in the process of being laser-cleaned, a procedure that requires great sensitivity as it exposes the delicate marble surface conditions that exist beneath layers of accumulated soiling. Work will continue through 2013, focusing on the north, south, and west galleries.
Why It Matters
St. Trophime is an important ensemble of medieval French sculpture still found in its original location. The quality of the workmanship reflects the religious, economic, and artistic significance of Arles in the Middle Ages. St. Trophime sits at the center of one of the great Romanesque town squares, but its proximity to the great Roman ruins also found in Arles make clear that its prominence in the eleventh and twelfth centuries was matched by its historic importance during antiquity. The cloister and its sculpted capitals are testaments to the great resources that were invested in creating a special place of devotion that was also meant, at the time, to signal the wealth and power of those associated with St. Trophime. The conservation of the cloister assures that St. Trophime’s legacy and beauty will continue to be understood and appreciated.