The French love their heritage

All the versions of this article: English , français

One mayor asked his constituents whether to demolish or restore the village church, which was in a state of peril. Another put to the vote whether or not to move the statue of Napoleon that adorns one of the town’s historic squares. A third questioned whether an 18th-century doorway that had burnt down should be restored to its original state, or whether a "contemporary architectural gesture" should be made.

1. The church of Saint-Nérin in Plounérin
Photo : Spendeau (CC BY-SA 4.0)
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You will have recognised - or not - referendums that took place respectively in the small town of Plounérin in Brittany, in Rouen (see article), and today in Bordeaux (see article). In all three cases, the residents voted in favour of heritage: against the demolition of the church and in favour of its restoration [1], against the removal of the equestrian monument, and today, as we have learned [2], against the replacement of the town hall door, which had been burnt down, with a contemporary door.

2. Vital Gabriel Dubray, known as Vital-Dubray (1813-1892)
Napoléon I, 1865 (after restoration)
Rouen, Place du Général de Gaulle
Photo: Chabe01 (CC BY-SA 4.0)
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We should both welcome these results and deplore the fact that they gave rise to a vote. In the case of Saint-Nérin church in Plounérin, the architectural quality evident in the photos should have led to it being listed as a historic monument, which would have prevented it from even being considered for demolition. The State did nothing. As for the monument in Rouen, we should never for a second have considered carrying out what amounts to an unbolting.. The government did nothing, even though it could have prevented it, as the work is located in the vicinity of several listed monuments. As for the door of the Bordeaux Town Hall, which is listed as a historic monument, here again the government should have immediately stopped this totally scandalous idea, which did not respect the listing, the Venice Charter or simple common sense.

3. Door of the Bordeaux City Hall (before the fire)
Photo : Chabe01 (CC BY-SA 4.0)
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These three projects should never have been put to the vote if the French State had not failed in its regalian mission of protecting heritage. We can certainly be pleased that the mayors of these three towns preferred to ask their residents for their opinion, because if they had not done so there is no doubt that they would have made the wrong choice. But in a normal world, no elected official would ever have had ideas so harmful to our heritage, and reason would have led them to take the only sensible decision without going to a referendum.. They would have fulfilled their role as responsible elected representatives concerned about the common good and their city.

Be that as it may, there are lessons to be learned from these votes. When asked for their opinion, citizens refuse, whether they are believers or not, to let their church, which remains a central element in the life of the city, be destroyed. When asked for their opinion, they refuse to sacrifice a sculpture to the prevailing wokism that wants to judge history rather than try to understand it. When asked for their opinion, they refuse to tamper with a historic monument by allowing a contemporary artist to graft himself onto it like a cuckoo in another bird’s nest [3]. When asked for their opinion, in the end, the public are wiser than the State and wiser than the mayors. They love their heritage. That’s good news.

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