So I’m still on the subject of Reparation Claims (see: Bringing them all back home, Friday 10 April 2009). I was in France – in the exotically named Pyrénées Orientales, also known as French Catalonia – and stopped off at the monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa near the town of Prades. The monastery is one of those cool-and-atmospheric-on-a-hot-day places that is also redolent with plenty of fascinating architectural history. Anyway, out in the sunlit cloisters I started thinking how well preserved, how ‘new’ in fact they seemed for a tenth-century structure, and was halfway off on one of those Restore / Rebuild / Renovate debates, unable to decide whether graceful decay is preferable to an ersatz newness when I had another look at the information leaflet…
caption: Abbaye de Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa; image held here
It seems these cloisters were actually rebuilt in 1952 – the original having been sold off during the French Revolution. Getting my head around the idea of buildings not just being looted, but being the ‘loot’ themselves, I then read on to discover their fate. Half of these cloisters are now The Cloisters museum, which the Met run in Upstate New York. The Met only purchased the cloisters in 1925, and I haven’t been able to discover where they were in the meantime, but I did hear that the monastery in France would rather like to have them back. Meanwhile, at their home in New York, I had always felt, even before stumbling on the ‘original’, that they were unsettlingly out of place, rather like coming across London Bridge at Lake Havasu City in Arizona.
Returning The Cloisters to the cloisters would be a spectacular gesture, but I don’t think they have a hope, in heaven or indeed in hell.