Apart from the growing hostility to which they are subject, these religious sites are also suffering from deep negligence on the part of public authorities.
This state of affairs is partly explained by the fact that, by virtue of the 1905 law on the Separation of the Churches and the State, municipalities became the owners of France’s religious buildings. In many cases, they have been unable to meet the costs of maintaining the sites.
“These buildings have not been maintained for over a century, and they have never been subject to restoration work or protection measures against theft or fire,” Lamaze said.
He explained that only 15,000 Catholic sites are officially protected as historical monuments, while the other 30,000 buildings are practically left to decay.
Lamaze argues that another significant and emblematic example of the mismanagement of this heritage is Saint-Ouen Abbey, a jewel of Gothic architecture belonging to the city of Rouen in Normandy.
“This abbey church is endowed with a ‘forêt’ [the church’s distinctive style of roofing] that is even bigger than that of Notre-Dame. It is a pure marvel and yet there is no alarm system of any kind.”
“It is another candidate for destruction. It is enough to make you cry!”
He continued: “Fires are also sharply increasing because buildings are more and more dilapidated, and this negligence also attracts a lot of thefts of paintings, statues, or gold chalices...”
Although French cathedrals benefit from a special status and are owned by the state, they have not been spared in the wave of fires that have hit Catholic sites in recent years. The blaze at Notre-Dame de Paris in 2019 was preceded by a fire at the Cathedral Saint-Alain of Lavaur in Tarn, southern France, and followed by fires at the cathedrals of Rennes and Nantes in 2020.
“The current minister of culture is seeking to establish a protection charter, but the situation is extremely serious and, alas, I don’t see any real awareness growing, nor any sense of responsibility in the face of this crucial challenge for our national heritage,” Lamaze said.
“In fact, beyond the religious aspect, it is our country’s culture that is at stake here, as these jewels of art and architecture are an integral part of the spirit and greatness of France. And if we keep going like this, one day our heritage will be completely destroyed. We will lose everything.”
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Solène Tadié is the Europe Correspondent for the National Catholic Register. She is French-Swiss and grew up in Paris. After graduating from Roma III University with a degree in journalism, she began reporting on Rome and the Vatican for Aleteia. She joined L’Osservatore Romano in 2015, where she successively worked for the French section and the Cultural pages of the Italian daily newspaper. She has also collaborated with several French-speaking Catholic media organizations. Solène has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas.