The fabric of French village life is in danger of destruction as mayors consider demolishing 19th century churches, conservationists and historians have warned.
A wave of threatened demolitions in the Anjou area has sparked fears of a wider phenomenon as mayors struggle to pay for the upkeep of the buildings, a responsibility they have held since secularisation laws passed in 1905.
No exhaustive list of the nation's rural churches exists.
However, of its 15,000 protected rural religious buildings, 2,800 are "in peril", according to l'Observatoire du Patrimoine religieux, a religious heritage watchdog.
For some villages it is already too late. In Saint-Georges-des-Gardes, population 1,500, a wall with rusty metal spikes is all that remains of the parish church, built in 1870.
The edifice is the latest victim of what mayors call "deconstruction" - a term more usually associated with the French philosopher Jacques Derrida than knocking down churches.
The mayor said a full renovation would have cost more than a million euros. It was far cheaper to build a new one.
His move has emboldened several other mayors to consider following suit.
In nearby Gesté, a pretty neo-gothic church stands majestically atop the hillside.
However, the mayor, Michel Baron, has announced his intention to "deconstruct".
Alain Guinberteau, who runs a website, 40000clochers.com, celebrating France's churches, was the first to sound the alarm.
Without its church, the landscape of Gesté will be disfigured, he said. "It will be cut off from its past. A part of our heritage and history is wiped away with one bulldozer.
"France is viscerally attached to its rural churches, which represent the very soul of French villages."
Mr Baron said a renovation would have cost three million euros, while "deconstruction" will cost less than half that amount.
"We tried to have the church listed to receive public funds, to no avail. In its place we will put a modern hall of 500 seats, easy to heat. Villagers have taken it well," he claimed.
However, Jean Leclerc. 62, a villager, said the decision was shocking. "Lots of people are unhappy about it," he said. "We are not against modernity but the village will lose a lot of its charm and history."
The local priest, Pierre Pouplart, refused to take sides.
"These are matters for the local authorities," he said.
Monday, May 28, 2007
French Churches Under Threat
From the Telegraph: