France has always been at the point of dissolution. She has found the only method of immortality. She dies daily. - G. K. Chesterton
Many years ago I read a book by Maisie Ward entitled, France Pagan? As I recall -- and this is only a vague recollection because it seems I gave the book away -- Ward told the story of a French priest involved in the worker-priest movement of the 1940s and highlighted the absence of religious faith among the French people. I believe the book was written during the war.
What brought Ward's book and its prescient title to mind was an online New York Times' article about the physical decay and, in some instances, the demolition of many old Catholic churches in present day France. It seems that in some areas the faithful are so few that maintaining the older, large churches makes little practical sense. Additionally, many of these older churches need extensive renovations and the money simply isn't there. And because it usually costs much more to renovate an older church than to build a new and much smaller church, the cities and towns are opting to do the latter. (As a result of anti-Catholic legislation that dates to the early 20th century, French churches are owned by the government.)
According to the article France has over 90,000 church buildings, and 17,000 of these are protected by the government because of their architectural or historical value. Many of these "protected" churches, however, are in very poor condition due to a lack of funding which in turn is apparently driven by a lack of interest. Béatrice de Andia, president of France's Religious Heritage Observatory, stated that "The Church may be eternal, but not the churches...In the past, these buildings were sacred, but today there is no sense of the sacred."
Church of Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens, 1844-1864, in Gesté -- schedule to be demolished
All of this has led to the demolition of many old churches in recent years. Most have been replaced by architectural monstrosities that one would hardly recognize as churches. Alain Durand, a 50-year-old mason and metalworker who is fighting to preserve his local church from demolition (see photo above), described a newly constructed neighboring church in less than flattering terms: “It’s for entertainment, it’s a music hall,” he said dismissively. “You could put a sign on it saying, ‘Groceries.’ ”
This is all, of course, simply more proof that Europe is no longer Christian in any sense of the word. Faith is the first to go; and then morality, for without the foundation of faith, rightness and wrongness become mere relativistic terms. And finally the traditions are neglected and forgotten. As the faithless sever the connections to their Christian roots, they lose any sense that there is something worth preserving in the remains of the past.
In her book, written almost 70 years ago, Maisie Ward asked the question, "Is France pagan?" I think, today, the answer to her question is sadly apparent.
Click here to read the full NYT article: Rising Price of Faith in France's Shrinking Parishes
And here's another related story: The Destruction of France's Churches