The French Observatory of Religious Heritage reports statistics showing that nine Catholic churches burned down in France in the first seven months of 2020. In 2019, 16 fires were recorded: two cathedrals, 13 churches and abbey (in most cases, traces found at the scene suggest that arson was the cause of the fire). In turn, the French Ministry of the Interior reports that each year in France there are about 800 acts of vandalism against churches. Devastation most often takes place in open churches that are not guarded by anyone. It can therefore be concluded that we are dealing not with occasional or accidental events, but with a wider, unabated phenomenon.
It must be remembered that after all, French churches are not only a place of liturgy, but also valuable architectural monuments that store valuable works of art. They are a testimony to the faith of people from past eras, and at the same time remain available to every tourist. In the case of fires and damage, we consider not only the spiritual losses of the Christian community, but also the cultural devastation that cannot be estimated. The action aimed at monuments of Christian culture may indicate a specific allergy to everything that is Christian - an allergy manifesting itself in the destruction of exceptional works belonging to the European cultural heritage.
The churches in France are struggling not only with arson and devastation. In a secularized country, it happens that historic temples are turned into, among the others, night clubs or simply are dismantled. For example, the nineteenth-century cathedral of St. James in Abbeville was torn down to make way for a new car park. Before the work began, the bishop was not even asked to desecrate the temple, and during the work, profanation was committed.
All these situations show that hostility or even disrespect towards religion blinds and brings huge losses to society as a whole. Respect for Christians and their culture is not only an expression of elementary care for the sphere of freedom, but also the protection of heritage and the common good. It also has a symbolic dimension, since the cathedrals have been a symbol of the highest achievements of Christian culture since the Middle Ages: infinity and temporality, harmony and beauty meet in them, all enclosed in an impressive architectural body. An attack on a cathedral or church perceived in this way is more than just destroying a building, it is an expression of opposition to the harmonious relationship between faith and culture. It is not only thoughtlessness, but also a conscious and deliberate cultural opposition. Challenging tradition, dialogue, openness and challenging the foundations of civilization. That is why it is so important to preserve and nurture the cultural heritage, whether in the form of monuments of architecture and art, or in the form of the values behind them.
dr Agnieszka Brzezińska
Director of the Chopin Center in Szafarnia