On November 22, the Heritage Foundation launched its first call for applications for the Sésame prize, which aims to reward initiatives promoting a respectful revaluation of places of worship in France.
A revolarization “compatible with the spirit of the place”: this is the wish of the vice-president of the Heritage Foundation, Bertrand de Feydeau, who officially announced the creation of the Sesame prize on November 22. The project is financed by the Common Good Fund and by individual patrons. The 42,000 churches in France – 95% of which belong to the communes – are, for many, threatened by the lack of maintenance, such were the conclusions of the report of the Senate last July. Among the most threatened churches are often those of the 20th century, as they are considered to be of low heritage interest and sometimes built with low quality materials. 2,500 to 5,000 religious buildings risk being demolished by 2030, according to the Observatory of Religious Heritage.
The increase in repair costs, the consolidation of municipalities, and the decline in religious practice require, according to Bertrand de Sagazan, director of the Pèlerin Heritage Institute and vice-president of the prize, “a movement of reappropriation”. And to remember in particular that churches were once high places of sociability and that the separation between religious life and secular life was less, contrary to popular belief. For centuries, “there were no pews, and in the nave the children played and the dogs ran.” According to him, maintaining worship means, at the same time, keeping churches open to everyone.
A shared use of the place, the preferred solution
If, in twenty-five years of existence, the Heritage Foundation has restored nearly 7,000 places of worship, it was deemed important to pay more attention to the more modest buildings, to which, however, the local inhabitants are often very attached. As the organizers note, it is necessary to prevent “potentially hostile reactions from the public”. To do this, five points will be examined in particular: the project must benefit from local support, be “compatible with current or original religious use”, be respectful of the architecture of the building, allow, as far as possible possible, a wide opening to the public, and, finally, to have a “positive impact” on the territory.
A shared use of the place is the solution favored by the promoters of the prize. And to cite the examples of a “solidarity grocery store” held in the Saint-André church (Lyon) during the pandemic, the Saint-Hilaire church in Mortagne-sur-Sèvre (Vendée) threatened with destruction having become “a stained glass interpretation center” or another that partially became a place of reception for students during the pandemic.
Applications can be submitted until February 3, 2023. Five projects will be selected for a total grant of 100,000 euros. A sum that is still modest in view of the advanced state of degradation of part of the religious heritage, but that the organizers intend to renew.