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Paris mayor promises millions for crumbling historic churches

Bertrand Langlois, AFP I The Church of Saint Sulpice in Paris, whose north tower was restored for 30 million euros.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced on April 10 the city’s official plan for an 80 million euro renovation of the capital's historic churches, some of which have been visibly deteriorating.


The funding, which will be disbursed throughout 2020, will go towards 20 churches in particular, including popular tourist attractions such as the Madeleine church and the one-thousand-year-old Saint-Germain-des-Prés church in the chic sixth arrondissement.

But some say that with the current state of a lot of these churches, 80 million euros won’t be enough to finance the work needed.

“It’s progress,” said Régis de Savignac, specialist in religious heritage for SOS Paris, an organization founded with the purpose of “defending the architectural heritage of the city". "But it’s just not enough.”

SOS Paris says that 500 million euros is necessary to make the most urgent repairs and to “avoid catastrophe over the next 15 years”.

In March for example, a small part of the cross at the Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile church in Paris's fourth arrondisement fell and grazed the priest as he was coming out of Mass.

Some of the other urgent repairs needed include the façade and interior of the Madeleine church, where nets keep stones from falling from the dome.

50 million for just one church

At the Madeleine church, necessary renovations are already estimated to cost around 50 million euros, said Madeleine parish priest Bruno Horaist, and the town hall has only planned for three million thus far. The situation is similar at several other churches, like St. Augustine in the eighth arrondissement.

According to l’Observatoire du Patrimoine Religieux (Observatory of Religious Heritage) and SOS Paris, the 80 million promised is insufficient, so organizations are finding ways to raise more money to supplement the city funds. “Avenir du patrimoine à Paris” (Future of Heritage in Paris) launched a campaign in hopes of raising seven million euros for renovations at the Madeleine, Saint-Augustin and Saint-Merri churches in particular.

Some are also worrying that the city might not fulfill its promises to finally give churches the funds. “Hidalgo has confirmed this promise several times but not a penny has been released, according to what the diocese told me,” said De Savignac.

Not only for worshippers

A 1905 French law detailing the separation of church and state put 96 religious buildings in the city’s hands -- 85 churches, nine temples, and two synagogues. The government is thus largely responsible for their care and renovation.

Under former Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, those 96 religious buildings were promised 90 million euros. He then reduced the amount by one third during his second term. With Hidalgo’s campaign and subsequent election, the mayor promised more financial support and raised the amount back to 80 million.

In Paris, a city that makes a lot of its money on tourism, the renovations would not only benefit worshippers, but the tens of millions of tourists that stream to see the famous religious architecture each year.


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