Church of the city of Gonde-Pontover near Angoulême (central France) surrounded by water following the flooding of the Charente River (French)

In the suburb of Ebigny-sur-Seine, a church has closed its doors due to cracks and leakage, as twentieth-century religious buildings in this Parisian town as elsewhere in France are deteriorating and struggling to secure funding for their renovation.

Notre-Dame de Mission ("Our Lady of the Missions"), with its minaret-like bell tower and façade close to Chinese Buddhist temples, is one of the most distinctive churches in the Parisian region.

But the building, which was intended as a tribute to missionaries when it was built on the occasion of the 1931 World Exposition, had to close its doors overnight in early October after cracks caused fears that parts of it would collapse.

Jean-Baptiste Dupuy, treasurer of the archdiocese of Seine-Saint-Denis province, told AFP that "experts have seen that it could happen in 10 years or within a week."

The pillars later allowed the church to reopen, a temporary solution that precedes repairs, although at first glance the main building does not appear threatened. Jean-Pierre Gaspard, director general of the Chantilly du Cardinal association, which helps build and maintain religious buildings in the Parisian region of Ile-de-France, said: "We already know that the cost will be hundreds of thousands of euros."

A scene of the historic Notre Dame church when its spire was ignited in 2019 (Getty Images)

Ale mode

Elsewhere in the town, opposite the towers of the popular Orgomon housing complex, is St. Patrice's Church, which is also in dire condition and has kept its doors wide open to get rid of moisture.

The parish priest, Father Desiree Zanté, recounted that "water leaked and two weeks ago led to the explosion of the electricity meter, resulting in a limited fire."

"The expert said we were lucky, but we haven't dared to turn the heating on again since."

Tarpaulin covers were placed on this square-shaped church, built with concrete of the type used in the sixties of the twentieth century. In this case, too, the repair bill is expected to be hefty, at around €400,<>.

Built after the 1905 Law on the Separation of Churches and the State, these churches are subordinate to the Parish of Seine-Saint-Denis, which oversees a total of 72 churches, posing a challenge in this province, one of the poorest administrative regions in France.

Churches in Seine-Saint-Denis will also not be able to register on the religious heritage list, as the process, launched by President Emmanuel Macron, is intended for towns with fewer than 10,<> inhabitants.

Jean-Pierre Gaspar stressed that "the whole of France supports the churches of small villages, and this is very good, but we must not forget these churches" built in the twentieth century to keep pace with urban expansion in cities, because they are "full and necessary".

Since its founding in 1931, the Chantilly du Cardinal Society has built 330 churches, with 3 others under construction near Paris.

"The cost of construction is at least 10 million euros," explained Jean-Pierre Gaspard, noting that her association, which has a budget of only 4 million euros and 5 million euros a year, has "needs that are much greater than the potential".

He noted that the aging of donors, and the public not always aware of the subtleties of funding for post-1905 churches, has led to "a continuous decline in the value of donations collected by the diocese", while their needs are increasing significantly.

The crisis of sexual violence in the church may also have negatively affected donor generosity.

A history blown away by neglect

But restoration work remains necessary, at a time when the condition of churches is deteriorating due to three factors: subsidence of land, damage to roofs (affecting some 3 churches in Ile-de-France), and the fragmentation of old materials.

This is the case of the Notre-Dame du Rency, a concrete masterpiece created by brothers Auguste and Gustave Perret, where crusts fell from the bell tower before undergoing renovation last March.

Public subsidies accounted for a large part of the funding, with the building classified as a "historic monument", a characteristic that applies to only two post-1905 churches in Seine-Saint-Denis, with Notre-Dame de Mission.

Gaspar praised Macron's stated desire to push for the 19th and 20th-century buildings to be classified.

There is "awareness at the state level that the religious heritage of the twentieth century can only be helped by public generosity", he said.

Source: French