Saturday, July 22, 2023

France: A Mayor Begins a 750 Kilometer Bike Ride to Save a Church

The story is certainly not commonplace, for several reasons. 

The mayor of the municipality of Bonnesvalyn (Aisne) undertook a 750-kilometre bicycle ride between Nice and the Vatican in order to save his church, because some of its restorations are becoming urgent and the share to be paid is too expensive for the mayor’s purse.

It is not news that religious buildings in France are threatened: the chapel of the Counts in the Gers, the chapel of Jesus and Mary in Aveyron, the church of Saint-Isle in Mayenne. 

Every day, the list of churches threatened with destruction grows.

This is why Roselyne Bachelot wanted to “raze some churches” that are “of no great interest.” 

The former minister had also received an answer from a lover of old stones and the history of France: “I cannot agree with the idea of abandoning our churches,” explained Stéphane Bern in an interview with Famille Chrétienne on January 11, 2023.

This figurehead of heritage defense admitted that “if the churches are in such a bad state it is because of the dechristianization of our country. The village church is no longer an election issue.… In a municipality, we prefer to spend money on something else.… But I don’t see why we would pay tens of millions of euros to renovate the pipes of the Pompidou Centre and at the same time be unable to find a few hundred thousand euros for a church.”

The interview continues with a beautiful affirmation: “The church is often the soul of a village. It is also generally children’s first contact with the beautiful and with what can elevate the soul, whether one is Catholic or not. The abandonment or destruction of these sacred places would deprive us of this experience.… According to the 1905 law, it is up to the State to decide.”

Mr. Bern concludes admirably: “Every church represents our history, our civilization, our landmarks. It is something that must unite us. Their defense is a civilization issue, and I weigh my words. Today, our society is not threatened by an external danger but by our own indifference! I can not support the destruction of a church, and I think the French share that sentiment. Every church destroyed is an admission of failure.”

Stéphane Frère, the mayor of the town of Bonnesvalyn, a small village in Aisne located 20 minutes from Château-Thierry, understands this. 

Anxious to protect a church in his community, he set out to ride to the Vatican by bicycle from Nice. That’s 750 kilometers between mountains and valleys.

The goal of this trip is to raise awareness among potential donors so as to help fund the renovation of St. Martin Church. 

Built in the 12th century, the Romanesque building has been listed as a historical monument since 1920. 

But in view of the condition of the roof, important work has become necessary.

The total cost is 700,000 euros. 

The municipality will have to pay 10% of the sum, or 70,000 euros: a sum too large for a village of just over 200 inhabitants. 

Far from becoming discouraged, Stéphane Frère made the bet to move heaven and earth, and mobilize the media through his “pilgrimage” to find the necessary funds. 

He opened a collection account on the Leetchi platform.

“I’m a sportsman! Every day I’ll ride between 80 and 100 kilometers. I will camp in the wild or at municipal campsites. In big cities like Genoa and Rome, I will spend a night in a hotel,” he says in an interview in Ouest-France.

The mayor has just obtained two services a year in the church from the parish priest, but he would also like to have a museum dedicated to archery.