The project is overseen by a scientific committee made up of historians, castleologists (researchers who study castles), archaeologists and art historians. But it’s Renucci who draws up the building plans and sets the construction schedule for each season.
“I have to think like an architect of the 13th century,” says Renucci, who explains that a big part of his job is to visit other existing castles from that era, many of which are in the immediate area. “They serve as models for us. They are the last reliable witnesses to history. There’s very little written stuff from this period, but by looking at these sites, by studying them, we can then get models.”
Additionally, some of the decision-making is based on the determination of those who would call this castle home.
“That’s been a very important part of the process,” Preston notes. “Because there were a lot of mistakes made [early on], it was important to [determine] who this man was.” The team decided that their lord wouldn’t be a rich man, exactly. He may have married well and stayed on the winning side of some political uprisings, but he was a relatively low-ranking noble who wouldn’t have had the resources to, say, build a drawbridge or a moat around his castle.
But because the crew began building before some of these aspects of their lord’s identity had been determined, some elements of the construction are not in line with others. The stonework on one part of the castle’s foundation, for example, is noticeably finer and more regular than the rest. And the handrail on the stairs outside the Great Hall has a slight undercut lip, something Renucci admits was a mistake: Their lord wouldn’t have wasted the resources, the skill or the time on something so frivolous. But he excuses the inconsistencies by saying, “It is a mark of our evolution.”
Both Preston and Renucci agreed that these mistakes can be the most interesting parts of the process, adding to a lively historical debate about what’s accurate and what’s not. History is by no means fixed, and the team behind Guédelon is very much aware of that. “To try to do the same process this way, you discover a lot of things,” Renucci says.
“We are at pains to point out that what we’re doing is experimental archaeology,” Preston explains. “We’re building in order to better understand, but we cannot confirm that everything we’re doing is exactly what they were doing in the 13th century. We don’t know; we weren’t there. The specialists don’t always agree among themselves. There are lots of unanswered questions about the building of medieval monuments like this. What we’re doing is testing the theories of the leading specialists.”
Preston adds that some pieces of the castle’s puzzle have been worked out by the 40-odd artisans and volunteers who are working on the site at a time — some of whom have been with the project for years. “They were confronted by the reality of a building site, the needs of construction, the rhythm of work, the materials they were working with — they had to find solutions,” she explains. “That’s what this building site offers the specialists: a playground to experiment in.”