Tuesday, 4 January 2011

What to Do with Old Buildings in a New Order

Nicholas Pevsner. a Jew(he converted to Christianity in the 1920’s but lost his teaching job) fled Nazi Germany to tout the Bauhaus safely from Britain, defined architecture shrewdly: “A bicycle shed is a building, a Cathedral is a piece of art. Nearly everything that encloses space on a scale sufficient for a human being to move in is a building, the term “architecture” applies only to buildings designed with a view to esthetic appeal.

Tell that to the few of the 2400 villagers who still go to their nineteenth century (completed in 1870) NeoGothic Church in Geste, in western France. The church of St. Peter replaced(in 1870) on the ruins of an older 16th century building destroyed during the French Revolution.

The new church was built in stages to accommodate 900 parishioners, but has been empty since 2006 and is now surrounded by a wire fence to protect visitors from its crumbling stonework. In deeply Catholic Anjou, their resistance to the anti-clericals resulted in damage. Ironically, in the early twentieth century an anti-clerical policy(1907) turned ownership of churches over to local authorities. In England and Italy, on the other hand, churches have been recycled as homes, stores or museums. Beatrice de Andia, the founder and president of the Religious Heritage Observatory in Paris (2006) estimates that there are about 90,000 religious buildings in France, about 17,000 of which are under government protection for historic or architectural value. The secularization of France is evident in the number of priests: 40,000 in 1940, 9,000 today.

The issue is local budgets: In 2007, the mayot and town council voted 17 t0 16 to demolish the Geste church: it would cost $4.4 million to renovate, as oppsed to $1.9 million to demolish and erect a new one. Alain Durand,50, a mason and metalworker who is treasurer of a preservationuist group, argue: “It’s very political; if they tear down and rebuild, it’s only to fight unemployment:” (John Tagliabue, ”Rising Price of Faith in France’s Shrinking Parishes,” International Herald Tribune 5, 1010.)

Durand showed a visitor the plans of a a nearby new circular church. ”It’s for entertainment,” he sneered, ”It’s a music hall. You could put a sign on it saying,’Groceries’."

So much for the Vatican II design to have the priest face the faithful during Mass.

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