Edouard de Lamaze, president of the Observatoire du Patrimoine Religieux (Observatory of Religious Heritage) in Paris, is sounding the alarm about the rapid erosion of France’s cultural heritage. “One mosque is erected every 15 days in France,” he said recently, “while one Christian building is destroyed at the same pace. It creates a tipping point on the territory that should be taken into account.” Yes, it should be taken into account by anyone, Christian or non-Christian, who is concerned about the future of France. But it isn’t.
According to the Catholic News Agency, “Lamaze’s appeal for increased awareness came after a fire destroyed the 16th-century Church of Saint-Pierre in Romilly-la-Puthenaye, Normandy, northern France. The fire, deemed accidental, took place on April 15, exactly two years after the blaze that devastated Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.” What’s more, “Lamaze told CNA in an interview that in addition to one religious building disappearing every two weeks — by demolition, transformation, destruction by fire, or collapse — two-thirds of fires in religious buildings are due to arson.”
All this was going on, Lamaze noted, against a backdrop of incomprehension and indifference: “The current minister of culture is seeking to establish a protection charter, but the situation is extremely serious and, alas, I don’t see any real awareness growing, nor any sense of responsibility in the face of this crucial challenge for our national heritage.”
Lamaze emphasized that this should be a matter of urgent concern for anyone who valued French culture: “In fact, beyond the religious aspect, it is our country’s culture that is at stake here, as these jewels of art and architecture are an integral part of the spirit and greatness of France. And if we keep going like this, one day our heritage will be completely destroyed. We will lose everything.”
And quickly: “Lamaze believes that on average more than two Christian monuments are targeted every day. Two-thirds of these incidents concern theft, while the remaining third involve desecration.” He is not exaggerating: “According to the most recent figures from France’s central criminal intelligence unit, 877 attacks on Catholic places of worship were recorded across the country in 2018 alone.”
Lamaze pointed out that “these figures have increased fivefold in only 10 years,” as 129 churches were vandalized in 2008, versus those 877 in 2018. RT reported in March 2019 that “Catholic churches in France are being targeted with arson attacks, vandalism, desecration of holy statues, and the destruction of the Eucharist. The attacks have been happening since the start of the year.” Among numerous examples, “the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris, where the Da Vinci Code movie was filmed, was set on fire just after midday mass on Sunday, Le Parisien reports. Firefighters and police said the blaze was an arson attack.” And “in February, a 19th-century statue of the Virgin Mary was smashed at the St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houilles. The statue was ‘completely pulverized,’ Father Francois-Laurent Heart said. ‘It is irreparable.’ The church reported three incidents in 10 days, with a cross also thrown on the floor by vandals.”
There has been hostility to the Catholic Church in France for centuries, but this kind of thing did not happen on remotely the scale on which it is happening now. Could this have anything to do with the introduction into France of a large population of people who believe that Christianity is a false religion and that they are commanded to fight unbelievers so that Allah may punish them by the hands of the believers (cf. Qur’an 9:14-15)? People who have a hostility to images of human beings, and believe not only that Jesus was not crucified (cf. Qur’an 4:157), but that it is an insult to God to say that he was?
Possibly not. But possibly. Certainly one reason for the deep crisis in France today is because of French authorities’ fear to face the fact that people holding such beliefs are indeed on French soil, and that at least some have no interest in assimilating.
The problem also is intrinsic to French society as it is currently constituted. Catholic News Agency explains: “Apart from the growing hostility to which they are subject, these religious sites are also suffering from deep negligence on the part of public authorities. This state of affairs is partly explained by the fact that, by virtue of the 1905 law on the Separation of the Churches and the State, municipalities became the owners of France’s religious buildings. In many cases, they have been unable to meet the costs of maintaining the sites.”
As a result, Lamaze says, “these buildings have not been maintained for over a century, and they have never been subject to restoration work or protection measures against theft or fire….Fires are also sharply increasing because buildings are more and more dilapidated, and this negligence also attracts a lot of thefts of paintings, statues, or gold chalices.”
But while all this has been going on, those who want to preserve France’s heritage and culture have been smeared as “racists,” “xenophobes” and “Islamophobes.” Now what is to come can be seen plainly, and what force exists in France that can or will head it off?