Over the last two months the facade of l’Église du Val de Grace has gradually been revealed as the scaffolding which shrouded it during its renovation has been removed layer by layer. The last few panels of the contractors’ work yard are still in place together with piles of building materials but the evening sun picks out the details of the bright, clean facade while leaving the clutter in the shade. The elaborately carved creamy stone looks brand new, much as it must have done when the church was completed in 1667.
Notre Dame du Val de Grace was built as the church of a Benedictine abbey, founded in 1621 by Anne of Austria, queen consort of Louis XIII. Anne fell from favour with the king when she failed to provide him with an heir and vowed to endow a magnificent church for the abbey should God finally grant her a son. Louis-Dieudonné was born in 1638 only four years before his father’s death and in 1645 Anne, now queen regent to the young Louis XIV, commissioned the complete rebuilding of the abbey and its church with no expense spared.
After the Revolution the abbey was confiscated by the state and converted into a military hospital. In 1979 the hospital moved to a new building and a museum of military medicine was established in the old abbey. The church was restored to religious use in the nineteenth century though it remains military property. Organ recitals and concerts in the church are advertised ‘courtesy of the Minister of Defence’.