Project approved by the Archbishop; work may start in June

One of the first objects that the first rays of the sun dawning over the city illuminate every morning is a marble statue of a maiden with her back to the sea.

One of the patron saints of France, the steely Jeanne d’Arc, stands guard, albeit in a desolate plot, which may soon become a lush sea-facing garden and a prize landmark in Puducherry.

Pink Church

Standing in solitude, adjacent to the Notre Dame des Anges (Church of Our Lady of our Angels), locally known as the Pink Church, Joan of Arc’s marble frame may cause onlookers to wonder.

Though statues abound in Puducherry, they are mostly of Indian and European personalities who have visited the city at some point of time. “Joan of Arc is a national heroine in France and the French have always been fascinated with her,” says Rev. Fr. Michael John, parish priest of Notre Dame des Anges.

Donated

According to the plaque resting against the statue, both the finely carved marble statue and the sea-facing square around it were donated by French industrialist and politician Francois Gaudart to the church parish in February 1920.

“We have always wanted to restore the square where the statue stands. Now with the coming together of various parties, this will become a reality soon,” says Fr. Michael. The Jardin Jeanne d’Arc named after the heroine herself has ceased to be a garden for long, run over with weeds and the haunt of boys with a penchant for cricket.

The Friends of Pondicherry Heritage, a non-profit association, has been involved in restoring the church adjacent to the garden.

As an extension of their work, the organisation has initiated the revival of the garden of Joan of Arc, according to Charles H. de Brantes, president, Friends of Pondicherry Heritage.

Landscaping

The landscaping for the garden has been conceived by a team of Italian artists, according to Ajit Koujalgi, chief architect INTACH.

The design and raising of two walls of the garden facing Beach Road and Rue Dumas on level with the perimeter of the church walls is expected to be undertaken by INTACH and financed by the Department of Tourism.

“The square between the church and the Bay of Bengal was donated to the church expressly with the condition that it remains as a church garden,”says Fr. Michael. On restoration, the garden will be open to the public, though hours of access would be limited.

The proposed garden would have clumps of trees, oleander, white frangipani, pots around the statue, fountains and pergolas of bougainvillea. With the project approved officially by the Archbishop, work is expected to start in June.

While the Friends of Pondicherry will fund a significant part of the expenses, the church would also be raising funds for it.

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