Stolen Altar Card Frames of the Crypt of Napoleon III Re-Created for Farnborough Abbey

Belgian woodcarver Patrick Damiaens recently shared some photos of a set of reconstructed altar card frames that were regrettably stolen from Farnborough Abbey in the United Kingdom. The story of the cards, like the abbey itself, is tied to the Emperor, Napoleon III, We think the project will be of specific interest to our readers, but also of more general interest in view of the potentialities it shows for liturgical arts down to our own time.  

Patrick details some of the steps of the project in his own words:

In the month of February 2014, from the Imperial crypt at St-Michaels Abby in Farnborough (UK), three historic framed altar cards were stolen from the tomb of Emperor Napoleon III. The three stolen altar cards were specially made for this crypt around 1881 by order of Empress Eugénie, consort of Emperor Napoleon.

In 2015, Abbot Dom Cuthbert Brogan contacted me a first time, asking if it might be possible to produce copies of the stolen items, and based on one small piece of original frame left and some yellowed photographs. Based on the small 5 cm long piece of walnut baguette molding sent to us by Dom Cuthbert Brogan we were able to create new designs, it was a reference for determining the overall dimensions of the frames, the photo material would go on to serve in designing the ornaments and decoration present on the prayer frames.

The most striking ornament is the large letter N of Napoleon in the 4 corners, further in the flat part of the neo-Renaissance frame are elaborate, acanthus leaf motifs, flowers and twigs, griffins and monsters. All this decorated with a pearl frame and the typical Imperial Napoleon III crown with 5 eagles.

After finishing the design, there was a brief search for the necessary wood and was able to contact a furniture maker in Utrecht who could manufacture me the rather simple construction.After applying the drawing to the frame construction, the excess wood around the ornaments could be milled away and the actual sculpting-cutting of the ornaments-design could begin.

After finishing the decorative flat parts of the three frames, these could be taken back to the cabinetmaker for the next step of the process, which was to manufacture and fit the outer frame on which the pearls are carved into.

After applying colour, patina and shellac, the final part, gilding, could begin.

Having finished this last step, it turned out to be an interesting and instructive project as we had to deal with new techniques, difficulties and the necessary solutions. We are delighted that the client was very satisfied with the result achieved.

 Here are the frames in question, sans their altar cards:

Some view of the the work in progress:

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