Two heritage organisations have raised concerns with the Walloon government over a series of dubious repairs carried out without permission in the Saint Waltrude Collegiate Church in Mons.
The church is a protected monument dating back to the 15th century, once the province of local canonesses from rich families of the area. It contains artworks by Pieter Paul Rubens, among others.
Now two heritage associations, the non-profit Communauté Historia and the online network Archeologia.be, have raised the alarm over a series of renovations and repairs carried out without permission by someone who appears not to be a professional in the matter.
The associations were alerted by local people concerned by some ‘inappropriate’ repair works that had been carried out in the church with no apparent concern for the rules of the restorer’s craft.
“According to their reports, these works have had ‘catastrophic consequences’ on a large majority of the elements present within the Collegiate Church,” the associations told L’Avenir.
They then contacted the office of cultural heritage minister Valerie De Bue (MR) and were informed there are currently no works officially under way in the church. The Walloon Heritage Agency (AWAP) said it was aware of no such activity.
Next day representatives of AWAP visited the church.
“Our worst fears proved to be justified,” they said later. “Significant, serious and, in some cases irremediable damage was observed. The whole collegiate church seems affected.”
Among the damages observed: bas-reliefs sanded with sandpaper and damaged by traces of excessive sanding; layers of cheap white paint applied to a large part of the statues of the church; the choir bell scratched by traces of sanding; concrete used to repair the ornaments of an altar; altars cleaned several times with water, and more.
“We are appalled at the extent of the damage caused and we are legitimately entitled to ask ourselves many questions about the responsibilities to be established in this matter,” agency members said.
Now the two associations have called on De Bue to set up a committee of experts to evaluate the damage and to draw up plans for repairs.
They are also asking the minister to file a criminal complaint.
“A judicial investigation seems to us more than necessary in view of the enormous financial stake a restoration of the elements affected will entail. This is a question of principle, of law, but above all of respect due to an exceptional element of Walloon cultural heritage” they said.