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July 24, 2013

Between the Bras Mort de la Moselle and the Moselle itself, a number of islands rise from the waters. These islands retain the vestiges of multitudinous architectural efforts, ranging from High Gothic abbeys to municipal swimming pools. Near the Préfecture, small knots of people gather about the entrance of Temple Neuf or pass the time in the church’s Jardin d’Amour. Temple Neuf excites you very little; you have eyes only for the lonely spire in the distance.

Indeed, you did once enter Temple Neuf, on the Journée européene du Patrimoine, passing for the first time beneath the roof and its neo-Romanesque spires. The interior struck you as austere, Temple Neuf being a Protestant church, yet something Catholic seemed still to cling about the interior, perhaps due to the vaulted roof, the austere benches, the extensive stonework. Then again, such an appearance might be just that, simply a result of Temple Neuf’s proximity to several cathedrals and its location in Catholic France. On this occasion, you remarked the considerable extent to which sections of the original stained glass had been replaced at one time or another with stand-in panes, white in colour, plain without texture. Even now, you can only imagine that some sinister event must be responsible for this, although this imagining is unwarranted; weather, for instance, might well be the culprit. Of all the original glasswork, that of the eastern rosary seemed the least intact, its blues and violets interrupted by large stretches of white, the original imagery lost in this opening of the void. On your way out, you took some time to examine the German blueprints for the structure, tacked as they were to two large bulletin boards at the entrance. The technical terms seem all the more forbidding in the sprawling German architectural jargon. It does, however, remind you that Temple Neuf marked the point at which the German authorities stopped building in Jaumont and opted instead for the grey and rose stones so prominent in the Nouvelle Ville. Before leaving, you threw one last glance back at the white stained glass of which the German builders were so fond, not the dead stand-in, but its textured counterpart that figured in the original glasswork, like that at the Gare, its surface bringing to mind any number of textures and grains to be found in nature.

On this day, however, it is the spire that draws you onward, and to get there, you must first cross another bridge that links the island on which Temple Neuf and the Préfecture are situated with that island just to the west. You pass the inner courtyard of a waterside hotel and restaurant and numerous residential buildings. After pausing to wait for the light at an avenue, you make your way via the crosswalk to a small park, to one side of which stand three or four outdoor ping pong tables. A wood rises behind a wrought-iron fence to the south. The open gravel and benches of the park become flowerbeds and sculpted hedges to the west where they form a neat grid along the river.

You ignore the park and focus instead on the remains of Temple Evangélique de la Garnison. At 97 meters, the neo-Gothic tower is visible from most open spaces in Metz, standing out against the western horizon. Yet this imposing height is the only remnant of the church, save for some uneven and ragged segments of wall, only centimeters in some places, although nearly two meters in others, jutting out from the back corners of the tower, where it and the walls of the nave once met.

As at other sites of cultural importance in Metz, a sign before the Temple tells its history. The Temple’s story is remarkable for both its brevity and violence, which so often dovetail in matters of historical interest. The Temple was conceived by the German military in Metz as both a Protestant house of worship for the soldiery and a political statement to the residents of the city. The Temple began construction in 1875 and ended six years later, in 1881. The nearby presence of Cathedral St. Etienne and its then bishop, M. Dupont des Loges, a symbol of the resistance to the German annexation of Lorraine, incited German military leadership to give dimensions to the Temple that were out of keeping with contemporary Protestant churches. Most notably, the tower stands a full meter higher than that of Cathédrale St. Etienne. Indeed, the entire structure feels oddly distended as every line and carving stretches simultaneously up and out.

Perhaps even more than its dimensions, the choice of building material amplified its alien quality. Unlike the rose stone used in the construction of Temple Neuf, several decades later, the military leadership opted to use the Jaumont stone, so central to the Messin architectural identity. Through the pairing of material and purpose, the new authorities intimated that Metz was to be German through the mere force of appropriation, whatever the will of its citizens.

In 1919, with the end of the First World War, the Protestant presence dwindled, and the doors of the church were closed to worshippers. Never again was the Temple to serve as a place of the cult, for, in the Second World War, the church suffered under the concussive force of artillery and was badly damaged. Finally, as if in view of some specious scheme of justice, a fire ravaged the structure in 1946, consuming the nave, transepts, and altar. What little remained was soon gutted and demolished, leaving only the tower to bear witness to a litany of wrongs.

Where lovingly carved doors once stood, now the observing eye meets a sheer face of concrete, smooth and grey. At night, orange light emanates from the upper stories, and the sheltered mechanisms of the clockwork become visible. You watch the clock for a time. When you first took note of it, you thought it fortuitous that the clock had come to a stop forever at the precise time indicated on your watch, the thought never occurring to you that the clock might still function. And with the rest of the Temple gone, it does seem strange that time should still touch this ghostly structure, alone and stranded between worlds.

You think for some time on a postcard that you found, a painting from the first quarter of the 20th century of the Temple. From a position from the western bank of the Moselle, at the end of the Pont des Morts, the artist’s rendering seems to capture the immensity of the Temple in the collective consciousness of the time, for, from this perspective, dominates the left half of the card. By contrast, the painter confined Cathédrale Saint-Etienne to the right half, smaller, blurry, still considerable in its own right as a Messin fixture, yet nearly lost in the distance all the same. This does not mark the first time that you have devoted some thought to perspective and its relation to the Temple Evangélique de la Garnison, for, when seen from the west, near Ban Saint Martin, the spire ironically appears to be a part of the cathedral or even, to a less discerning eye, a tower issuing from the northern end of the cathedral, neo-Gothic to match the Gothic of Saint Etienne. Another such illusion arises regularly on your treks across Pont de Verdun, which links Belle Ile with Longeville-les-Metz, from which point the spire seems to have fused with Abbaye St. Vincent and its three towers. You hypothesize that, for the sight at least, it is unthinkable that such a structure could stand alone, and so, as you make your way about Metz, the remains of the Temple Evangélique de la Garnison moves with you, grafting itself onto other structures, in search of some sort of integration with the social sphere once more.

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