France launches a major national initiative to protect its religious heritage, which includes over 100,000 churches

France launches a major national initiative to protect its religious heritage, which includes over 100,000 churches

St Martin’s Church in Bonnesvalyn

The Conference of Bishops of France (CEF) officially launched yesterday, 12 September 2023, the États généraux du Patrimoine religieux (General State of Religious Heritage), a process that aims to comprehensively address the state of religious heritage in France and make recommendations on the way forward to ensure its future.

The initiative will be implemented in three phases between September 2023 and December 2024.

  1. A major national survey of religious heritage in all the dioceses of France (more than 90 in total), in order to gain a better understanding of its diversity (immovable, movable, and immaterial).
  2. Regular meetings over the 15 months of the initiative to address the issue on the state of religious heritage in the country from different perspectives (namely touristic, economic, pastoral assets, etc.) with hearings of qualified personalities and experts – clerics and lay people – to hear the most relevant national and local initiatives.
  3. The creation of a guide of good practices to help owners and tenants better support their religious heritage buildings in accordance with their primary purpose.

The General State of Religious Heritage initiative is expected to be completed in December 2024, prior to the reopening of the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral.

There no doubt that one of France’s greatest treasures is its religious heritage. With more than 100,000 religious buildings and nearly 300,000 religious movable objects, this specific type of heritage is one of the major tourist assets of the country.

Future for Religious Heritage at the launch event

From left to right: Lilian Grootswagers (President of FRH Advisory Board), Olivier de Rohan Chabot (Founding president of FRH) and Sarah de Lencquesaing (FRH Council member)

As the voice of European Religious Heritage, FRH joined the launch event that took place at St Martin’s Church in Bonnesvalyn, a small village of 216 inhabitants located northeast of Paris.

The event was attended by Stéphane Frère, mayor of Bonnesvalyn; Monsignor Renauld de Dinechin, bishop of Soissons, Laron and Sainte-Quentin; Father Hugues de Woillemont, General Secretary of the CEF; and Father Gautier Mornas, head of the CEF’s Sacred Art Department and coordinator of the Etats Generaux du Patrimoine Religieux initiative.

FRH was represented at the event by Lilian Grootswagers (President of FRH Advisory Board) and Sarah de Lencquesaing (FRH Council member) who also met Olivier de Rohan Chabot, founding member of FRH and current president of La Sauvegarde de l’Art Français, which is an important supporter of this national-wide French initiative.






A Romanesque jewel rescued by its local community

The place chosen for the launch event was not accidental. The St Martin’s Church in Bonnesvalyn was built in the 12th century and it is a jewel of Romanesque religious architecture in France. However, at the beginning of the 20th century the building was in danger of collapse. In 1920 the church and some of its objects were classified as a historical monument in order to protect them. In 2009, the town council of Bonnesvalyn proposed to repair the roof, a costly intervention which amounted to 70,000 euros. Lacking the funds to carry out the works, the mayor of Bonnesvalyn had a brilliant idea.

Stéphane Frère, mayor of the village, embarked on a long pedalling journey from Nice to Rome in order to raise the funds to repair the church. After nine days of travelling and 750 km travelled Mr Frère arrived in Rome having raised 2,500 euros. Far from the target but setting an example of unconditional support for religious heritage in rural areas.

Façade of St Martin’s Church

Launch event at St Martin’s Church

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