03 May 2024, The Tablet

Heritage fund makes first grants for France’s run-down churches

The Heritage Foundation estimates that 3,000 to 5,000 of France’s 50,000 places of worship are in serious disrepair.

Heritage fund makes first grants for France’s run-down churches

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Maumusson is one of the recipients of a grant for repairs.
Fondation du Patrimoine

France’s Heritage Foundation announced the first 100 religious buildings to be renovated by a national fund modelled on unprecedented contributions made to rebuild Notre Dame de Paris after the cathedral was devastated by fire in 2019.

The buildings, mostly dilapidated Catholic churches in small towns, were chosen because their villages could not bear the financial burden of repairing them.

Church buildings in small municipalities usually belong to the local council, which under the 1905 separation of Church and State must pay for their upkeep. Repairs to a leaky roof or rising damp are often put off for years because they compete with other public expenses.

The appeal for funds for the fire-struck Notre Dame de Paris cathedral in 2019 was so successful – raising about €800 million from donors – that President Emmanuel Macron launched the heritage fund for neglected religious buildings last year.

Around €2.3 million have been contributed in the first year, an “initial success” according to the foundation’s director but far below the target of €200 million in four years.

Of the buildings, 61 per cent are not protected heritage and 55 per cent are closed or in danger. Nearly half are in municipalities with less than 1,000 inhabitants.

Reflecting France’s religious landscape, all are Catholic churches or chapels except for four Protestant churches and two synagogues. 

The fund stipulates the religious buildings must be in municipalities of less than 10,000 inhabitants. The goal is to aid 1,000 buildings in four years.

France has 50,000 places of worship, mostly Catholic churches or chapels, 40,000 of which belong to their municipalities. The Heritage Foundation estimates that 3,000 to 5,000 of them are in serious disrepair.

“The small communities responsible for them are often faced with great difficulties to finance their maintenance or restoration,” it said.

On the list, the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Maumusson, a village northeast of Nantes, has wooden props in its interior vaults to hold up walls that expand and contract by more than two inches depending on whether there is cool rain or searing heat.

Parishioners have raised over €30,000 through card game or pétanque tournaments and beer festivals, and received €88,000 from the Foundation. The full renovation costs are estimated at €1 million. 

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