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ABBÉ LECOUTRE: artist and builder

In line with other builder priests, particularly from the 19th century, Abbé Lecoutre is distinguished by the superhuman energy and the extraordinary range of talents as a craftsman and artist who led this autodidact, driven by an extraordinary faith to completely rebuild, embellish and decorate the church he was in charge of for more than 40 years. And creating a true masterpiece of folk art considered a precursor of naive art.

He left very few writings and apart from a few rare testimonies that have come down to us, it is his monumental work that best reveals his astonishing personality to us.

Paul Amédée Lecoutre was born on June 29, 1830 in Wierre Effroy, a small village located 10 km from Wirwignes. Coming from a family of farmers, he is the 7th in a family of 8 children.

He was brought to the priesthood by Father Blaquart, parish priest of Wierre Effroy, scholar, art lover who had acquired many works to decorate his church. 

Ordained a priest in 1855 in Arras, he had previously received a solid formation for 14 years at the Institution Haffringue in Boulogne and then at the Major Seminary of Arras.

He was then appointed vicar at Notre Dame de Calais and then serving in Agny before being appointed to Wirwignes on December 25, 1863, despite the protests of his former parishioners in Agny. The parishioners of Wirwignes, regretting their former parish priest, Father Cousin, did not give him the best welcome. 

In February 1867, he asked and obtained from the Bishop permission to leave his parish to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Places. This 3-month trip from March 21 to June 23, 1867 will take him to Italy, Palestine and Egypt where he will have the opportunity to meditate in many oriental places of worship.

On his return and probably inspired by his visits, he formed his plan for the deep restoration of his church and in 1869 began its real reconstruction.

Helped only occasionally by a few parishioners for the workforce, and with the advice of the engineer Émile Gérard and the painter-glassmaker Charles Levêque, he devoted considerable creative energy to it until his death in 1906.  ;

Without training and driven by the ardent desire to build the most beautiful house to the glory of God, he will establish himself all at once, architect, mason, carpenter, stonemason, painter, mosaicist, sculptor and cabinetmaker.

All of the work will be financed by collections, private donations and public funding that he will seek.

For 40 years the church was a vast construction site and witnesses of the time reported that the parishioners were not always satisfied to attend mass in the middle of mortar bins and piles of bricks but that they respected the fervor that the abbot put at the service of their church.

The expression "to kill oneself at work" will apply to Abbé Lecoutre who will die on November 2, 1906 by falling from his scaffolding while he was painting a prayer on the triumphal arch. His death marks the end of the work of the church. His funeral was celebrated by the whole parish as well as by all the parish priests and mayors of the surroundings. 

He rests in the shade of his dear church and leaves to posterity a unique work and a testimony of rare talent and devotion.

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