Vandalism in churches © Harald Oppitz (KNA)
The French cultivate their protest. In some cases, this no longer even stops at sacred places. Scattered hosts, smashed windows, graffiti and toppled tombstones: Attacks on churches are on the rise.
Notre-Dame in Dijon is considered the most beautiful church in Burgundy from the 13th century. Century. On Saturday morning, an unknown person entered the parish church, scattered hosts around the main altar and devastated the choir room. The incident is one of a growing number of acts of vandalism in French churches.
In the past week alone, houses of worship in Nimes (Gard department), Lavaur (Tarn department) and Houilles (Yvelines department) have been the target of attacks, according to the report.
Even large Episcopal churches not spared
Scorch marks on the altar, bullet holes in church windows, theft of liturgical vessels along with the hosts they contained. A new case of vandalism every few days. The church of Houilles was recently the target of three attacks in a row. Part of the cross was demolished and a statue of the Virgin Mary and the sanctuary damaged.
Even the large Episcopal churches are not spared. In 2013, the Gothic cathedrals of Limoges and Nantes were graffitied with slogans and desecrated within a few days. Obscene graffiti, Hitler beards and other Nazi emblems, devil symbols like the number "666" on an altar. On the main portal of Limoges from the 13th century. In the nineteenth century, left-wing radicals smeared the words "Canon Law = Sharia".
According to Interior Ministry figures cited by "Figaro" (Tuesday), Catholic churches are particularly often the target of depredations. In 2017, out of a total of 978 incidents at places of worship, 878 were at Christian institutions.
The motives of all these acts are conceivably different: Exuberance, frustration, drug use, hatred or greed. But all of them have one thing in common: growing indifference to the religious feelings of others. A consequence of the French exercise of secularism; the traditional revolutionary willingness to express one's convictions even in a tangible way? The evaporation of religious ties? Revenge for church abuse scandals? Or actually a social radicalization? For many it is probably simple desire to politicize and destroy.
"Fuck tourism" was spray-painted on the Sacre-Coeur church in Paris in 2014 – a clear message to millions of visitors each year. But one of the graffiti suggests that the perpetrators had also deliberately chosen the French national basilica for political reasons: "Long live the Commune," that bloody left-wing popular uprising in 1871 – which started in Montmartre. In times of social crisis, roadblocks and yellow vests, fundamental protest "against the establishment" is in vogue.
Bishops' conference keeps a low profile
France's bishops' conference won't comment officially on recent wave of vandalism. Background: there are certain peak periods of such attacks. One does not want to encourage free riders by indignation and thus avoid further desecrations. Announcing punishment for the perpetrators is also part of the verbal ritual after terrorist or vandalistic crimes. Of course: verbal strength is expected on the one hand. On the other hand, it wears thin.
In the past, France's bishops' conference has warned against falling into the "trap" of terrorists and outdoing each other in the media. Churches must "remain open places for people". Such a straight back, coupled with Christian composure, has a beneficial effect – but comes under scrutiny with each new incident. Most village parishes can't afford alarms or the like to keep their churches open carefree.
Remembrance of murder of pastor Hamel
The murder of 85-year-old priest Jacques Hamel at the altar of his church in the working-class village of Saint-Etienne-du-Vouvray near Rouen in July 2016 was particularly radical. One of the two young Islamists had announced the deed on social networks as a matter of course: "You take a knife, you go into a church, you slaughter someone, you cut off two or three heads, that's it!"
They committed the murder with a kitchen knife, the kind you use to peel vegetables, stabbed another 87-year-old who narrowly survived. While a task force was already on its way, one of the Islamists began a haunting conversation with the traumatized women in the church about God and their faith.
And the far-right theorist and weapons expert Dominique Venner demonstratively shot himself in May 2013 in front of the main altar of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. In his blog, he also wrote: "We are entering a time when words must be reinforced by deeds" to "wake up the unconscious". This kind of supposed social wake-up call has had one main effect: In France, churches have increasingly become a venue for extremist trench warfare.