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The Saint-Quentin church was profoundly altered in the 19th century by Abbé Lecoutre who devoted his whole life, but who was he?

ABBÉ LECOUTRE IN BRIEF    (go to detailed biography)

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 Haffreingue 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 warmest 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 Egypt, Palestine and Italy 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 and day laborers for the workforce, and with the advice of the engineer Émile Gérard and the glass painter 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" will apply to Abbé Lecoutre who died on November 2, 1906, falling from his scaffolding while he was painting a maxim 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.

Biographie détaillée Lecoutre



Aucun ouvrage n’a jamais été publié sur l’abbé Lecoutre. On trouve des archives d’articles de presse consacrés à l’église et à l'abbé Lecoutre, et tous ceux que nous avons consultés comportent des informations fantaisistes. 

Cet historique est le fruit de recherches menées au titre de l’association sur des documents authentiques et comprend des informations inédites à notre connaissance. 

Si vous possédez des informations sourcées, orales ou écrites, merci de nous les communiquer et nous les inclurons dans cet historique.

La recherche continue et cette biographie sera sûrement amenée à s’étoffer.

The Saint-Quentin church was radically altered by Abbé Lecoutre in the 19th century, but who was he? Few resources for the curious (the Diocesan Archives in Arras   keep most of the documents) but a remarkable site, that of Bruno Lecoutre who explores his family:

You can also consult the records of Alain Lecoutre on geneanet:


Let's start with civil status records and population censuses.


Father Paul Amédée Lecoutre was born on June 29, 1830, at his parents' house, at two o'clock in the morning.

He is registered in the civil status as Paul Amédé, on June 30, by his father, Jean Claude Lecoutre, farmer, who declares his birth to the town hall of Wierre-Effroy where he lives with his wife, Louise Marie Sophie Hcart. The statement has two witnesses: Augustin Vasseur, 32, farmer owner who lives in Belle and Joseph Serret, 30, teacher domiciled in Wierre-Effroy. His father and his witnesses sign the deed[1].


[1] Pas-de-Calais Departmental Archives

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In 1846[1], he lives with his parents at the La Cloie farm in Wierre-Effroy. Indeed, the census records eight people in the household:


  • Jean Claude, farmer, 55, 

  • Louise Sophie, his wife, 50 years old,

  • Jean Claude Hubert, their eldest son, 26,

  • Marie Geneviève Marceline, 24 years old,

  • Hubert Joseph, 22 years old,

  • Marie Hermine Aurélie, 19 years old,

  • Paul Amédé, 16 years old,

  • Adele Marie, 6 years old,

  • Louis Léon Justin, 11 years old.


[1] Ibidem

Recensement 1846.jpg

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The previous census, in 1820[1], recorded four people:


  • Jean Claude, farmer, born February 2, 1791,

  • Louise Marie Sophie, his wife, born in 1796,

  • Geneviève Marie Sophie, his daughter, born October 7, 1818,

  • Jean Claude Hubert, his son, born January 27, 1820.


[1] Ibidem

Recensement 1820.png

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In 1846, the eldest daughter, Geneviève Marie Sophie or Marie Sophie Adèle Lecoutre for civil status, (8 X 1818 Wierre-Effroy – 17 II 1910 Colembert) had just married on January 22, 1845, in Wierre- Effroy, with Jean Louis Chrysostome Gomel (15 X 1816- 7 VII 1874 Wierre-Effroy). They will have nine children of which we will find some with their uncle Paul Amédée in the censuses of Wirwignes:


  • Jean-Louis Constant

  • Julius Augustus

  • Alphonse Marie-Joseph

  • François Jules 

  • Marie-Sophie

  • Eugene Aime Louis

  • Marie-Louise Lisa

  • Pierre Louis Isidor

  • Constant AImé


The couple lost in 1826 a little girl of eight months, Marie Françoise Claire (18 XII 1825 – 18 VIII 1826 Wierre-Effroy[1] ) which is therefore not found on either of the two censuses.


[1] Ibidem

The 1851 census shows us the family of Jean Louis Gomel and Sophie Lecoutre settled on the Côte Brune farm with four children (Jean Louis, Jules Auguste, Alphonse and François Jules) and five servants "attached to the farm ". The Lecoutres are still at the La Cloie farm. Jean Claude, 60, is a "farmer" like his wife and four of his children (Jean Claude Hubert, Geneviève, Hubert Joseph and Marie Aurélie). Adèle and Louis Léon Justin are 11 and 16 years old and live “from the work of (their) parents”. A “servant attached to the farm” is registered: Eugène Haffreingue, 35 years old, a shepherd, Eugène Darlot, 36 years old and a servant, Zoée Terry, 28 years old. It seems that the exploitation has grown. 

Recensement 1851.png

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In 1872[1], there are several identified households:

  • Jean Louis Gomel and Sophie Lecoutre (house no. 13) are still living in Wierre-Effroy with seven children:

  • Augustus, 25 years old,

  • Alphonse, 23 years old,

  • Jules, 21 years old,

  • Sophie, 20 years old,

  • Mary, 16 years old,

  • Louis, 14 years old,

  • Constant, 11 years old,

and two servants: François Grégoire and Jules Vieillard, 66 and 28 years old. Jean Louis Constant married on 10 IV 1872 in Baincthun with Charlotte Florentine Sidonie Cadet and probably left his parents' house. Eugène Aimé Louis died at fifteen months on VI 13, 1855 (the certificate is dated 14).

  • Jean Claude Lecoutre (house n° 5) is 81 years old, he is a farmer, head of household. His wife does not appear, two children are recorded: Jean Claude, 50 years old, Aurélie, 45 years old, and five servants: François Inquez, Baptiste and Marie Baut, Charles Mégrai, Euzèbe Telliez

  • Another household (house n°11) is organized around Louis Lecoutre, married to Rosalie Joly, and their two children: Louis, 2 years old and Eugénie, 1 year old. They have two servants: Antoine Humbert and Eugénie Duvuvier, 28 and 17 years old.

  • Hubert Lecoutre (house n°6) is married to Virginie Teilliez and they have nine children:

  • Virginia, 15 years old,

  • Hubert, 13 years old,

  • Constant, 11 years old,

  • Paul, 10 years old,

  • Louis, 8 years old,

  • Henry, 7 years old,

  • Alphonse, 5 years old,

  • Louise, 3 years old,

  • Augustus, 2 years old

and no servant.


[1] Ibidem

Recensement 1872.png

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Today, their great-granddaughter, Marie Louise, granddaughter of Hubert and daughter of Constant, operates the La Cloie farm with her husband, Marc Andrieux.


Paul Amédée Lecoutre is absent from the census in 1851. He undoubtedly began the school course which leads him to the priesthood. At the wedding of his brother Hubert, on February 11, 1857, in Wierre-Effroy, he is a witness, is 28 years old and is a priest, domiciled in Calais[1].


[1] Ibidem

Acte mariage Hubert Lecoutre.png
Acte Mariage d'Hubert Lecoutre -2.png

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The Cleton Directory of the Diocesan Archives of Arras tells us about his course: he was ordained a priest on September 22, 1855, in Arras. 

Before his ordination, at age 25, he received 14 years of training. The Institution Haffreingue, which has the privilege of free exercise since 1822, became when the Abbé Lecoutre entered it, the largest house of education in the Boulonnais[1]. The final training at the Major Seminary of Arras included around 1850, two years of philosophy then three years of theology[2]. The second year of Philosophy was devoted to the study of Physics and Mathematics. Monsignor de La Tour d'Auvergne, bishop of Arras from 1802 to 1851, wanted to give the teaching of the seminary a high level and endeavored to maintain the obligation of the baccalaureate to enter theology and a sufficient duration of studies . Numerous ecclesiastical conferences occupied each week[3].

As is often the case at the time, he was appointed, on leaving the Séminaire d'Arras, vicar,[4]  at Notre-Dame de Calais for him. On January 4, 1862, he was appointed minister at Agny, near Arras, then on December 26, 1863, at Saint-Quentin de Wirwignes, replacing Abbé Cousin.


A clue to his intellectual journey is given to us by the ceremonies that accompanied his appointment to Wirwignes. Abbé Blaquart, parish priest of the Saint-Pierre de Wierre-Effroy church, attended. We can think that Abbé Blaquart had an influence on Abbé Lecoutre since the latter invites him to attend the goal he has reached: to be appointed near his home. Jean-François Blaquart had been a priest in Wierre-Effroy since 1822, so he knew the young Paul Amédée Lecoutre. One can think that Abbé Blaquart, scholar, art lover, protected and favored his vocation. He himself had acquired many works to decorate his church with his own money or in exchange for the church's baptismal font requested by the Boulogne Museum.[5]  He is also the author of two works: The Life of Sainte Godeleine, born in Wierre-Effroy in Boulonnais, taken from the Latin work of the Bollandists and other historical documents[6] et Historical, archaeological and statistical information on the church and parish of Wierre-Effroy, deanery of the Marquise.[7]  He is recognized by his peers and quoted by the Bulletin of the Academic Society of Antiquaries of Morinie in 1853[8]  and the Historical and Archaeological Dictionary of Pas-de-Calais[9]. Abbé Lecoutre followed his example for the care given to the church of Wirwignes but no writings, other than those related to his profession, have been preserved.

However, the examples of builder priests did not fail him in this period marked by the Revolution. Many churches had been poorly maintained or worse, looted, burned, turned into depots. Louis Marie ALLAIS notes in his Master's dissertation in Architecture: “responding as much to a material need as to a symbolic desire to affirm their beliefs and to heal the wounds of the revolution, the parishes began to build frantically. This symbolic will to overcome this ordeal is found in the architectural style used for the construction of these churches. Indeed, the 19th century saw the recurring use of neo 

(Byzantine, Roman, Gothic, Classical…) in order to reconnect with the prosperous periods of Christianity. »[10]

In the Pas-de-Calais, the bishop of La Tour d'Auvergne rebuilt a cathedral in Arras, the abbot Haffreingue rebuilt Notre-Dame de Boulogne. Yves-Marie HILAIRE notes[11]  that many young priests "rebuilt (t) a country church with the help of the parishioners" and he specifies that the register of visits from 1842 and 1846 indicates "the restoration of a large number of churches and presbyteries. The Revolution and the poverty of the countryside had ruined the churches where Paul Amédée Lecoutre is named: the Notre-Dame de Calais church had only been returned to worship in 1802 after having been transformed into a depot, the Saint-Laurent church d'Agny had been demolished during the Revolution and rebuilt in 1823. No doubt Father Lecoutre learned a lot in his first two posts. 


[1] Yves-Marie HILAIRE, Christianity in the 19th century? The religious life of the populations of the diocese of Arras (1840-1914), PUL, 1977, page 181: It has "202 students in 1842"

[2] Ibidem, page 178.

[3] Claude LANGLOIS, “The time of seminarians. Clerical training in France in the 19th and 20th centuries”, Proceedings of the seminars organized by the French School of Rome and the Università di Roma-la Sapienza (January-May 1985, Publications of the French School of Rome, 1988, page 250.

[4] Ibidem, page 188: “a recently ordained priest is usually appointed vicar in town or serving in a rural parish with an annex. »

[5] Patrick WINTREBERT, History of a village in Boulonnais: Wierre Effroy, Éditions Histopale, 2010, chapter V.

[6] Boulogne, Leroy-Mabille, 1844 (204 pages).

[7] Arras, E.Lefranc, 1855 (136 pages).

[8]  Quarterly bulletin of the Academic Society of Antiquaries of Morinie, 2nd year, I and II 1853, Saint-Omer, Chanvin fils, rue de l'œil, 1853.

[9]  Historical and archaeological dictionary of Pas-de-Calais, volume III, Sueur-Charruey, Arras, 1882, pages 219 and 220.

[10] Questioning and reflections on the future of 19th century churches, Master's thesis under the direction of Marie-Paule HALGAND, architect DPLG, Doctor in History of Architecture EPHE, École Supérieure d'Architecture de Nantes , September 2016, page 9.

[11] Ibid., page 66.

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Église_Notre-Dame_de_Calais_2012_1 Wikipédia.jpeg

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Abbé Lecoutre tells us himself[1]  his arrival in Wirwignes and his installation in 1863:


“On the 25th of December 1863, Monsieur Cousin received his nomination for the parish priest of Audinghem and Monsieur Lecoutre, parish priest of Agny, was chosen the same day to replace him in this parish. Both had to obey despite their repugnance and the pain of their respective parishioners.

Despite the complaints of the inhabitants of Agny, their protests and even their revolt, Monsieur Lecoutre had left his old parish on the very day of his change and the next day, the feast of Saint Etienne, they dined with his predecessor in his new presbytery. and having its president sign the factory his taking possession sheets. After about 15 days of stay with his family, he wants to take solemn possession of his parish on January 16th.

His new parishioners gave him little welcome, they thought they were showing their regret for their former parish priest” (page 32) XXX


then his desire to follow in the footsteps of Christ in 1867:  


“Around February, Monsieur Lecoutre, parish priest of Wirwignes, realizing one of his secrets which he had been nurturing from his seminary, asked and obtained from Monsignor permission to leave his parish for a few months to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Places. Mr. Fourdinier, priest of Cremarest having been devoted enough to take charge of the administration of the parish during these weeks » XXX

Abbé Lecoutre left Wirwignes on March 21, 1867 and returned from his pilgrimage on June 23, 1867.


The pilgrimage is the subject of another article on the site, the composition and the works of the factory as well. 


In 1867, he formed his project for the deep restoration of the Saint-Quentin church and in 1869 began a real "reconstruction" of the church. This is also the subject of another article.


In 1863, Abbé Lecoutre did not move to the presbytery. The various censuses of Wirwignes[2]  allow us to understand the situation of Abbé Lecoutre. In 1861, Ambroise Pinte and his family were already installed in house n°1 of the Village. He is 28 years old and is a teacher. He has three children: Clémence, Octave and Céline. At house n°2, we find the Abbé Constant Cousin who is 35 years old and his servant, Augustine Berufe who is 50. 

There is also François Lecoutre, 56, with his servant, Adèle Cousteville, 45, at house No. 5. In the 1872 census, he was the owner and born in Bournonville (his servant was then Clémence Ducrocq, 19 years old). Jean François Ignace Lecoutre, his civil status name,   died on March 24, 1874. Alain Lecoutre's research, published on Geneanet[3], tell us about their relationship: their common ancestor is Jean La Fontaine Le Coustre, born in Baincthun in 1629. François descends from Philippe, born in 1677, one of his sons, and Paul Amédée descends from Claude, born in 1684, brother of Philip. What knowledge did they have of their relatives? Jean François made two bequests to the church: an annual and perpetual annuity of five francs for a mass on the anniversary of his death, an obit and an intention at each Sunday mass for twenty years and finally the sum of nine francs, paid by his heirs each year. The documents can be read on the internet page indicated in the note.


In 1866 – You have to go read the census at the Archives, the internet document does not open. 


In 1872, the teachers were still installed in house n°1, we learn that Ambroise was born in Offin and is now 40 years old. “Claude” Lecoutre, priest, 43 years old, born in Wierre-Effroy lives in house n°2 with his sister Geneviève, 46 years old and their nephew, Hubert Lecoutre, 14 years old. He is the son of Hubert. In 1876, Paul Amédée regained his first name Paul and lived with his sister and two of his nephews: Paul Lecoutre and Louis Tellier. .In 1881, Paul Amédée and his sister took in 12-year-old Rosalie Lecoutre. Appears the name of Joseph Pécron, shoemaker, 35 years old. In 1886, it was Marie Gomel, 11, who shared the life of Paul Amédée and Geneviève, then, in 1891, Marie and Eugénie Gomel., in 1896, Marie Gomel, in 1901, Marie and the great-nephews of Paul Amédée , Emile and Emilie Gomel. In 1906, Marie Gomel was now 28 years old and seemed to have replaced Geneviève alongside Abbé Lecoutre. Geneviève indeed died at the age of 76, on January 2, 1898 in her house in Wirwignes.


[1] Archives Diocésaines, dimension XXX

[2] Pas-de-Calais Departmental Archives


Acte Décès de Geneviève Lecoutre 2 I 1898 Wirwignes AD62.png

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The act is drawn up by the Mayor, Ambroise Pinte who gave up his place as public teacher and his house to Honoré Blacquart. In 1896, he occupied house no. 1 with his wife, five children and mother, Célestine Delory. Ambroise Pinte is listed at house no. 5 as a grower owner. He lodges his father-in-law, François Boulogne, 80 years old, annuitant owner. We can meditate on the tomb of Ambroise Pinte in the cemetery of Wirwignes.

In 1898, the teacher is Félix Héduy who declares with Octave Pinte, son of the mayor, the death of Geneviève Lecoutre. The School Archives of the Departmental Archives of Pas-de-Calais[1]  allow you to follow François Charles Félix Héduy: he was married in 1896 to Adeline Dehoucke, a public teacher, in Hermelinghen. After Wirwignes, it is Autingues, Douchy-lès-Ayette, Pihen-lès-Guînes, Saint-Folquin, Lebucquière, Fruges, Louches, Oye-Plage and finally Zoteux where Adeline died in 1905 at the age of 40.

In 1901, Wirwignes had two public teachers: in house no. 6, Auguste Charles and his wife, Jeanne Watel. Their daughter Marguerite was born in Wirwignes in 1900. The first children, Jean and André,   having been born, one can think of the appointment of this time.

In 1906, the village had two public teachers but also two private teachers. They are Clotilde Faille, 33, and Marie Goussu, 68. Saint Bernadette School?


[1]  Cote T 1245 /9, Teachers' Files, 1878-1945.

Recensement Wirwignes 1911.png

1861 - 1872 - 1876 - 1881 - 1886 - 1891 - 1896 - 1901 - 1906 - 1911
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Abbé Lecoutre devotes his time and attention to his family, his parishioners and the church. On November 2, 1906, he fell from his scaffolding while painting the inscriptions on the triumphal arch. We see the place where his hand stopped:

He died shortly after, at his home, at 1 p.m. One of the witnesses is Joseph Pécron, his neighbor. Guy LOUCHEZ, in the visits of the church, willingly told the anecdote which had been entrusted to him: the Abbé Lecoutre had taken as a model of the Adam of the pulpit his neighbor Joseph Pécron[1]. Her work accompanied her until the end of her life.


[1]  Éve is modeled on a young lady Lecoutre de Crémarest, a cousin.

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Funérailles abbé Lecoutre.HEIC

Diocesan Archives of Arras
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He is buried in front of his church, in front of the north gate.

IMG_1611 Copie.jpg


Few resources for the curious (the Diocesan Archives in Arras keep most of the documents) but a remarkable site, that of Bruno Lecoutre who explores his family:

You can also consult the notices of Alain Lecoutre on geneanet:

Françoise Robin - Mabriez
Docteur ès-lettres

Galerie Abbé Lecoutre

Photo gallery of the page dedicated to Abbé Lecoutre

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