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Où sont passés nos porches d’’église ?

Dans un article précédent, nous avons évoqué quelques particularités des monuments cultuels remontant à l’époque médiévale en détaillant les règles traditionnelles de conception et de mise en œoeuvre des abat-son des clochers. Nous souhaitons, cette fois, aborder une construction annexe des églises, annexe mais essentielle pour la préservation des portails d’entrée : les porches. Il faut faire de nombreux efforts pour dénicher aujourd’hui ce qui, autrefois, « équipait » couramment les édifices religieux car, il faut bien le reconnaître, les porches charpentés ont quasiment tous disparu des monuments, et nous pouvons le déplorer à travers l’’ensemble des différentes régions de notre pays.

Quelle était leur fonction ?

Les églises sont généralement orientées, ce qui signifie que le sanctuaire (le chœoeur), sein liturgique du lieu, est situé du côté est de la construction car « tourné vers l’Orient ». La liturgie ancienne voyant dans le levé du Soleil côté choeœur l’expression de la résurrection des hommes croyants. Dans ces conditions, l’entrée du monument se présente généralement (mais pas exclusivement) en façade occidentale. Ces règles d’orientation en appelèrent d’autres expliquant la conception des bâtiments : le côté gauche en entrant (par l’ouest) est le côté nord et voit très peu de construction, tandis que le côté sud, à droite, est le lieu privilégié de l’installation des cloîtres ou des cimetières (pour des raisons naturelles de salubrité). Évidemment, la morphologie d’un site ou son urbanisme parviennent parfois à contredire cette organisation qui reste à considérer comme une base logique, mais non systématique. Nous reviendrons, lors d’un prochain article, sur ces considérations. Il résulte de cette « orientation » du bâtiment une façade d’entrée censée porter les signes d’ornementation, d’appel et de bienvenue se manifestant par les plus grands soins tant au niveau constructif qu’’au niveau de la statuaire et de la sculpture. Et c’est ainsi que les portails sculptés ont fleuri sur les monuments depuis l’époque romane et concentraient parfois en eux-mêmes tous les effets décoratifs du monument. C’était sans compter sur une particularité liée à la position même du monument : le plus souvent, dans nos régions, la façade occidentale est celle qui reçoit le plus de vent et, surtout, le plus d’eau ! Avec, en outre, des gradients thermiques très importants. Les constructeurs médiévaux avaient bien compris le paradoxe de positionner ce qui était le plus précieux dans une zone des plus exposées aux intempéries, sources d’’inéluctables dégradations. Face aux risques encourus par ces ouvrages, plusieurs solutions furent imaginées.

La mise en œoeuvre d’’un porche en bois

À l’’instar d’’une marquise posée afin d’’éviter aux eaux battantes de dégrader une porte et de pénétrer dans une maison, la solution du porche protecteur fut, probablement, rapidement conçue par nos prédécesseurs. Ces porches étaient effectivement la solution la plus commode pour protéger l’’entrée du lieu sacré. Cela permit de développer à couvert un décor sculpté bénéficiant de cette protection. La transition apportée par ce premier volume couvert fut vraisemblablement à l’’origine du développement du narthex, lieu fermé, restreignant l’’accès à l’’intérieur du monument sacré et protégeant un portail devenant, du coup, une pièce de choix pour le déploiement d’’un grand décor. Nous avons tous en tête l’’exemple de la basilique de Vézelay.

L’’épaississement du mur au droit du portail d’’entrée

Il semble que l’’on ait voulu assez tôt offrir une solution « en dur » à ce type d’’ouvrage protecteur. Les premières virent l’’épaississement du mur au passage de l’’entrée principale au moyen d’’une succession d’’arcs juxtaposés et décalés (rouleaux). Ceci permit de placer le tympan largement en retrait, protégé par le porte-à-faux ainsi créé. Les arcs intérieurs (appelés « voussures ») furent ensuite utilisés comme support privilégié d’’une ornementation sculpturale, rendue très visible et très compréhensible aux yeux des visiteurs. L’’épaississement du mur donnait lieu en partie sommitale à un traitement en glacis (pente) en pierre de taille empêchant la retenue d’’eau à l’’aplomb du portail richement orné. Certains exemples comme celui de la collégiale Notre-Dame-du-Fort à Étampes, dans l’Essonne, montrent d’’ailleurs que les modillons placés en bas du glacis étaient les réminiscences des abouts de chevrons qui, jadis, permettaient la constitution de la toiture charpentée.

La construction hors oeœuvre de volumes complets

Une sorte d’’aboutissement de ce raisonnement peut prendre l’aspect de volumes extérieurs construits de manière à protéger non seulement les portails sculptés, mais aussi les fidèles, comme on peut le noter à la cathédrale de Laon, dans l’Aisne, où l’’on assiste à la construction de véritables ouvrages qui peuvent être aisément considérés comme des interprétations en pierre de taille des porches charpentés.

Les édifices modestes

Les édifices plus modestes ne purent s’’offrir les développements sophistiqués qui furent un des centres d’’intérêt les plus marqués des grandes constructions du 13e siècle, et conservèrent, à travers les époques, ces porches charpentés qui pouvaient prendre différentes formes, mais répondaient toujours à leur finalité technique et symbolique. Prenons pour exemple un dessin datant de 1663, présentant l’’aspect de l’’église Saint-Pierre de Lardy, dans l’Essonne. Les gravures anciennes ou certaines peintures de chevalet témoignent de la conservation de ces ouvrages précieux jusqu’’au 19e siècle. Malheureusement, force est de constater que l’’ère industrielle semble avoir eu raison de ces ouvrages qui, à l’’image de certaines églises scandaleusement dépouillées de leur mobilier dans les années 1960, ont été démolis et jamais remplacés. Dès lors, on constate que les éléments qui avaient donné lieu aux meilleures attentions, aux plus grandes dépenses et à l’’emploi d’’hommes très qualifiés, notamment les sculpteurs, sont aujourd’’hui ridiculement soumis aux intempéries : combien de portails sculptés sont désormais soumis aux aléas des agents climatiques destructeurs ? Combien de portes en bois d’’origine ou plus tardives, mais au dessin particulièrement raffiné comme ces portes dites « à plis de serviette » remontant au 15e siècle, sont irrémédiablement altérées car non protégées ? De notre propre expérience, le dénombrement est impossible, mais on peut, en revanche, affirmer que presque aucune des régions de France n’’a pu échapper à ces faits. Hérésie ! En tant qu’’architectes du patrimoine, restaurateurs et conservateurs, il nous est impossible de continuer à constater sans les dénoncer ces véritables hérésies ! Ne pas oser, ne pas vouloir restituer ces ouvrages protecteurs est un non-sens. Ceux-là n’endommageraient en rien la perception du monument, mais, au contraire, à l’appui d’un bon dessin et d’une juste conception, permettraient de redonner du sens à une intervention sur les monuments anciens qui, si souvent brutale dans le passé, semble, aujourd’’hui, tétanisée et bloquée par des états d’’âme sans raison à propos de la restitution ou de la non-restitution des parties disparues. Si la question est effectivement ardue pour certaines problématiques de restauration, elle paraît très simple pour les porches protecteurs. Combien de portails du 12e ou du 13e siècle faudra-t-il perdre pour enfin réagir ? Combien de fois faudra-t-il supporter, comme nous eûmes à le faire dernièrement, qu’’une commune refuse la restitution d’’un porche dans des dispositions pourtant bien connues « pour ne pas perdre de la place autour de l’’église les jours de marché » ?… Stéphane Berhault Architecte du patrimoine

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