French President Emmanuel Macron has started a new fund to help thousands of old churches in rural areas across France.
These churches are at risk of falling apart, but President Macron wants to save them. The money for this fund will come from people who want to donate, and in return, donors might get a tax break of up to 75 percent. It’s estimated that this fund could gather as much as 200 million Euros.
President Macron has always been keen on preserving France’s historic and religious buildings. This became very clear when the famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris caught fire in 2019. At that time, he promised to fix it completely within five years and started a campaign to collect money from all over the world. This campaign raised hundreds of millions of Euros. In a speech on TV while the fire was still burning, Macron said, “Notre Dame is a big part of our history, culture, and lives. So, I promise that we’ll rebuild it together.”
Macron’s dedication to protecting France’s religious heritage is evident, but there’s growing concern that not enough money is available for the smaller, rural churches that are also in desperate need of repair.
Reports suggest that up to five thousand rural churches in France could crumble if they aren’t fixed soon. One of these churches is in a charming town called Semur-en-Auxois, where Macron made his announcement with his wife Brigitte. Semur-en-Auxois is a beautiful place in the Burgundy region with quaint houses and typical French architecture. The church there looks a bit like Notre Dame but is much smaller. It stands proudly on a hill and can be seen from far away. However, the 4,200 people living in Semur-en-Auxois are finding it hard to pay for its upkeep.
France became a secular state in 1905, which means the government can only provide money for fixing religious buildings if they’re given a special status as national heritage sites. Only about one out of every five churches in France has received this status so far. Macron wants to give more churches this status so they can receive government money, but until that happens, local governments have to find the money themselves.
President Macron understands that some people want to save these churches because they are an important part of their culture, even if they don’t go to church regularly. He said, “Councillors and residents… have an attachment to this heritage whether or not they believe [in God].” This new plan to save rural churches might also help improve Macron’s image, which has been affected by public protests against his changes to the pension system.
Stéphane Bern, who used to be an adviser to Macron on heritage matters and is well-known for hosting history shows, joined Macron and his wife when they announced the fund. He pointed out the importance of this initiative, saying, “This issue touches upon the national identity. People say, ‘You are building mosques but you are destroying churches’.”
Along with the fund, Macron also introduced a plan this summer to create a list of all religious buildings across the country. This list will help the government keep track of which churches need help the most and which ones are struggling financially. It’s a significant step toward safeguarding France’s religious heritage and ensuring these rural churches stand tall as symbols of the nation’s history for generations to come.