A fascinating round table on safeguarding religious heritage..;
At the Cordeliers refectory on January 28, Lagrasse Abbey held a round-table discussion on this theme, with the aim of extending and deepening the reflection initiated by the trauma of the Notre-Dame de Paris fire; Indeed, the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris made France realize that it was suffering as a body; Every citizen has been able to reclaim Notre-Dame and, through it, all of France’s religious heritage; Each citizen was confronted with his or her own history and roots; Questions emerged: What can be done to save this endangered heritage? What solutions should you choose to save it? Do we feel responsible to those who passed it on to us and to future generations? Do we want to pass it on?
The round table, introduced by Stéphane Bern and moderated by Alexis Brézet, brought together personalities passionate about this major issue: Pascal Bruckner, Maryvonne de Saint Pulgent, Edouard de Lamaze, Jean- Dominique Senard and Father Emmanuel Marie, Abbot of the Abbaye de Lagrasse, debated in front of an audience of 250 people;
At the time, no one envisaged the current situation of containment and health catastrophe linked to Covid-19, which seems set to overshadow other social issues;
Today, France is either locked up indoors or panicking in care centers; But tomorrow, what direction will the French take to get back on their feet and rebuild the areas devastated by the crisis? What meaning can be given to the professional activity of so many workers deprived of their companies?
For those involved, the restoration of heritage (especially living heritage) is a must; It is a key factor in the economic and social development of its region; More than a cost, this restoration is a long-term investment; Enabling the revitalized social fabric to develop serenely, this restoration becomes a pledge of hope. Rooted in time, respectful of the past without being nostalgic, living religious heritage enriches the present and gives meaning to the future; In particular, when it is used for religious purposes, it avoids a “museum”-style restoration; Sainte-Marie de Lagrasse Abbey has been recognized as a perfect model of restoration in all these respects; That’s why Stéphane Bern has made it a priority for the new Loto du Patrimoine season;
We’d like to take a look back at the January 28 exchange and present you with the results;
A historic site, emblematic of France’s heritage
Built at the end of the 14th century, in a convent that was a major Parisian educational center for 6 centuries, the Cordeliers refectory has undergone numerous structural changes since the end of the 18th century; With the refurbishment that began at the end of 2015, the Cordeliers refectory has undergone the largest phase of renovation work in its history; This remarkable refurbishment of the refectory has enabled the creation of 39 housing units for researchers and the complete renovation of an 18th-century reception pavilion;
Even if the building is no longer used for the same purpose as it was originally, holding our meeting in this prestigious location was part of the movement to safeguard and enhance France’s religious heritage;
Extract from the exchanges between the speakers
Make the French aware that we are all, collectively and individually, the custodians of this heritage; We don’t have to systematically ask the State to save our heritage, nor associations, communes, towns or monks; Are we capable of asking ourselves if we are worthy of this heritage, if we are doing enough to defend it, to keep it alive and to pass it on to future generations? I believe that we have a responsibility here, not only politically but also individually;
Beauty belongs to everyone; And we want to preserve this beauty: we’re all going to have to work at it;
Heritage is a factor of development in territories […] it is also a factor of equality between town and country, because there is as much heritage in towns as there is in rural areas;
Heritage is not a luxury, it’s a necessity, especially religious heritage; Religious heritage is our roots, our traditions;
Maryvonne de Saint Pulgent
Religious heritage is the face of France; Notre-Dame de Paris is the embodiment of the nation; Both the republican nation and the deep, ancient French nation; And, as far as I’m concerned, one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, with a unique silhouette; But it’s also a literary character, a novel character, a musical character; Almost an extraordinary embodiment of all that is our culture;
I would like to remind you that the authors of the 1905 law were extremely explicit in their reasoning; Edouard Herriot expressed himself on this point, and the provisions of the 1905 law are precisely based on the fact that the Church is not only a place for believers, but belongs to all citizens; And that’s why entry is free and closing is not possible; This is set out in the provisions of the 1905 law, which discuss both separation and the fact that religious heritage is part of the nation’s common heritage; This is expressly provided for in the 1905 law; There is therefore no problem of principle, at least for the authors of the law; But this spirit of the 1905 law is largely forgotten today;
Édouard de Lamaze
With the Notre-Dame fire, as with every attack on heritage, we realize that this heritage can disappear. It is so fragile that it can disappear; Like all civilizations that have seen their landmarks disappear; I think it’s this dimension that we find in all the mobilizations in towns and villages; When we learn that a church is either being destroyed or transformed, they lose a little of their own convictions and, above all, we are worried about the fate of our civilization.
The paradox of today’s society is that we’re building cathedrals for ourselves; We are building churches in the new towns, where the population has moved; What we observe at the Observatoire du Patrimoine religieux is that places that are no longer used for religious purposes are mostly deserted by the population; But the Chantiers du Cardinal construction sites have churches in perfect condition because they were built in the 20th century in inhabited areas where there is a practicing religious community; But our rural communities are increasingly deserted; Perhaps not initially deserted by Christians, by churchgoers, by Catholics They are mostly deserted by men and women going into town; Hence the paradox: our century is building cathedrals; But it doesn’t protect its heritage or its history;
It’s important to remember that Notre Dame is a work of art before it is an architecture of stone; The fear immediately arose that this work would be transformed into a shroud; And as you also just said, with the burning of Notre-Dame, France understood that it could die as a nation; Many say she’s already dead, a question I’m not prepared to answer, but in any case, we saw that the stone breathed and suffered like a man, that it was subjected to the flames; And it was this live death that struck us all, whether we were Christians, atheists, Jews or Muslims, because the whole world was hurt by this fire;
We have experienced hostility to heritage in past centuries; But what’s worse today, and in my opinion threatens both Catholicism and religious heritage, is indifference Today, we no longer debate the great questions of God; And religious interest has spread from Christianity to Islam; The question is: is the fire at Notre-Dame the wound that wakes us up, or on the contrary, the blow that ends our interest in this heritage?
Some churches will disappear; Should we regret it? Yes, abstractly no doubt; Not if faith is alive; And that’s France’s problem: is the Christian faith still alive enough to bounce back in the future? Or is it that it is currently in a state of crisis, and so perhaps this is the real problem that needs to be addressed?
I believe that the challenge of restoring churches, abbeys and cathedrals is to make the present fruitful by reviving the past, a past that can still inspire us; In a way, we receive the past without instruction, in both senses of the word; We don’t know him; For my part, I am struck when I enter a cathedral because I don’t understand anything; I need a guide to explain to me the meaning of statuary, of what this or that inscription in Latin means, because I’ve forgotten it, even if I’ve learned it, and without instruction, because we Moderns have no guide to understand our past. Tocqueville said: “In a democracy, tradition is no longer an order, it is information;
And so, the challenge of restoration is not simply to restore buildings to their original state, but also to ensure that these buildings inspire or teach something to younger generations; But the first step is obviously to restore the buildings to their original condition;
Jean-Dominique Senard asked us: “Should we restore the bar-tobacco shop or the church? You know what makes the center of our villages today? It’s the pharmacy; Why? Because pharmacy is an obsessive concern for well-being; We want to be healthy; Spiritual health goes by the board; And so, we have to take France as it is today; There are perhaps two pitfalls to avoid; Archaeological piety is obviously necessary, but not sufficient; It’s consumer tourism; Looking forward to summer; When we walk around France, we visit churches to see which one we like best; But consumer tourism does have one virtue It is an aperitif; All of a sudden, it can interest us, even fascinate us, in an unknown place of worship, and all of a sudden, it can lead to an interest that is something other than purely aesthetic; It seems to me that both things should be encouraged;
Personally, I’m rather optimistic because I really believe that we’re witnessing a kind of revival that’s not new; The example I have in mind is an experience at Michelin; I was in charge of this magnificent company for several years, and as you know, the Michelin guide exists, and in particular the green guide; What struck me was that readers and the general public were very interested in these guides, especially the religious buildings;
Politicians, in the broadest sense of the term, have a major interest in supporting this movement; I think that anything we can say or write on this subject will be welcome, because we spend our time telling ourselves that our times lack meaning;
Today’s societies, troubled by a host of events, are looking for some kind of explanation for their future; In business, the responsibility of leaders is to create a reason for the company’s existence, and to engage all teams around the world around the given meaning; This is the main role of the entrepreneur; It’s the role of great politicians to give meaning; At the time, we were talking about a lack of presence in the regions, and the need for revitalization; In fact, behind this lies the need to resocialize our territories; There is a real problem; For the life of me, I can’t believe that restoring a church is just a more interesting step than maintaining the bar-tabac; I consider the tobacco bar to be very important, but it seems to me that the courage to restore religious monuments can play a considerable role in resocialization; I think that if we miss this step, we are setting ourselves up for a hellish future because we are at the heart of the subject of meaning; Let me say that this is a real political issue, and one that calls for political courage;
When a religious community moves to a site like Lagrasse, the vine must first be able to take root; You have to be accepted, you have to be recognized, and I think that was the first challenge: to be religious in the service of the common good; It seems to me that because we have a vocation that is also apostolic, visiting the sick, doing funerals, etc. All this served to gain public acceptance; There’s also the fact that we’re very welcoming; We have reopened the Abbey to the public, and in particular to local people; It seems to me that this openness, and I believe the smiling nature of our welcome, did much to play down a position that could have been too harsh from a secularist point of view;
I’m going to tell you a secret that no one else will; The mayor belongs to a political party that is naturally not very supportive of what we are; But since we took care of his family… we get along well with him because, humanly speaking, things are concrete; Perhaps an Abbey simply has to live, breathe, pray, sing, welcome And after that, ideological problems level themselves out;
We are a community of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine, and Saint Augustine is our patron saint; He is a man who gathered priests around him when he was a bishop; And so we are not monks; We acquired Lagrasse Abbey 15 years ago to bring it to life, restore it, make it sing and breathe; But also to turn it into a welcome center; For a center of our pastoral ministry, of our apostolate, since we take care, like priests, of funerals, sacraments, baptisms
We’re involved in scout groups, palliative care, oncology and a whole range of other ministries; The Abbey of Lagrasse is a jewel for us because it is the place where our ideal, our faith, is expressed; It’s cultural, it’s spiritual; But who needs the temporal, who needs an incarnation; I really liked Monsignor Aupetit’s comment that if a cultural site no longer has a cultural or spiritual dimension, it runs the risk of being a body without a soul; He was talking about Notre-Dame de Paris;
With the question posed in this round-table, we are at the heart of Benedict XVI’s judgment that the cultual is itself at the heart of the cultural;
Marcel Proust in 1904 in Le Figaro: “It can be said that cathedrals are not only the most beautiful monuments of our art, but the only ones that are still living their full life, that have remained in keeping with the purpose for which they were built.”