Beyond the case of Notre-Dame de Paris, under construction for at least five years, a parliamentary report takes stock of the State’s action for the 87 cathedrals for which it is responsible. This causes an annual expenditure of 40 million euros for results deemed insufficient. Two buildings are in danger.

In recent days, a giant crane has been installed near Notre-Dame de Paris to secure the reconstruction site of the burnt cathedral.

Christmas 2019 is therefore the first of a long series – lasting at least five years – during which believers will have to do without a midnight mass at Notre-Dame de Paris. After the great fire of last spring, Emmanuel Macron assured that everything would be done for the reconstruction to be completed in 2024. Should we believe it, given the history of State action for the maintenance and restoration of cathedrals? A parliamentary report published in the course of this year thus came to demonstrate the shortcomings of public action in this area.

Despite the tens of millions invested annually, two cathedrals would be in a situation of “Partial danger” and the results would be globally “Unsatisfactory”, in the words of deputy Gilles Carrez (LR), author of this document.

To arrive at this judgment, the former president of the Finance Committee of the National Assembly plunged into the intricacies of the public budget in the chapter “Historical monuments and monumental heritage”. It is in this envelope that we find the means that the State must devote – since the law of 1905 of separation of Church and State – to the maintenance and renovation of the 87 cathedrals of which it is owner, a task which is not considered a subsidy of the cult.

40 million euros each year

In view of the information he was able to collect, the deputy for Val-de-Marne calculated that the State spent 40 million euros each year in this area, taking into account the government stimulus plan of the years 2009- 2010, which earmarked 22 million euros for the benefit of 44 cathedrals. This represents close to 40% of the budget devoted to monuments belonging to the State.

The sums are, to say the least, substantial. The MP specifies, however, that this represents an average expenditure of 0.5 million euros per cathedral and per year, and “With great disparities depending on the operations in progress”. Thus the Saint-Apollinaire building in Valence benefited from an envelope of 37,000 euros per year on average for its work, against 2.1 million for Notre-Dame de Rouen. To this, we must also add the additional funding that can provide local authorities or the European Union, as well as the sums generated by the patronage that “Focuses on the most famous cathedrals”.

Great disparities

Was all this money well spent? Gilles Carrez doubts this and believes that “These investments are not enough to ensure sufficient maintenance of the cathedrals”. Indeed, of the 87 cathedrals owned by the State, only a quarter (22 exactly) is considered to be in good condition. On the other hand, 47 are in an average condition, 15 are in poor condition and 2 are even in a situation of partial danger (Notre-Dame de l’Assomption in Clermont-Ferrand and the orangery of the cathedral of Luçon).

It should also be noted that the situation is very different depending on the region. On the one hand, Brittany, whose 4 buildings are in good condition. On the other, Ile-de-France, which hosted three cathedrals in poor condition and one in fair condition even before the Notre-Dame de Paris fire.

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Our special file on the fire and the reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris