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Paris mayor gives city’s decaying churches a Hail Mary—to the tune of €80m

But heritage groups say the funds fall far short of the real cost of restoration

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The city of Paris has pledged €80m to preserve its decaying religious buildings over the next five years, but critics say the funding still falls short.

Of the 85 churches, nine temples and two synagogues managed by the Mairie de Paris (almost half of which are classed as historic monuments), 20 have been named as priority sites for restoration between 2015 and 2020. These include the tourist attractions Saint-Eustache, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Saint-Sulpice and La Madeleine, where a €17m restoration is already under way, as well as the lesser-known Saint-Merri and Notre Dame de Lorette, which are among sites on the World Monuments Fund’s 2014 Watch List.

The plan, which includes €60m for “very large-scale operations” and €20m for “permanent maintenance”, was announced by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, as “an unprecedented financial effort”; it follows a 2014 electoral campaign promise. In addition, the French government will give €11m over six years and an estimated €19m is due to come from the private sector.

However, these figures represent only a small increase on the €157m given by the previous mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, during his two terms in office from 2001 to 2014. According to the non-profit organisation Observatoire du Patrimoine Religieux (Observatory of Religious Heritage), the 20 priority buildings in Paris alone require €500m, while around 3,000 churches across the country need urgent restoration.

The art critic Didier Rykner says that many of the conservation projects under Hidalgo’s plan “concern only parts of the buildings”. Pierre Housieaux, the president of the campaign group Paris Historique, told Le Parisien: “This sum will just allow us to repair the capital’s religious heritage, but not to restore it.”

Urgent repairs required Restoration work is planned at Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile, where part of the bell tower’s bronze cross, weighing 3.5kg, recently fell off. At the late-Gothic church of Saint-Merri, work will focus on the southern façade of the chevet (apse).

At Saint-Sulpice, murals and a ceiling painting by Eugène Delacroix, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Heliodorus Driven from the Temple and Saint Michael Slaying the Dragon (1849-61), are due to be cleaned and stabilised. The city launched a crowdfunding campaign with the Fondation du Patrimoine and the Musée National Eugène Delacroix in September 2014 to raise funds towards the estimated €450,000 cost. Around €22,000 had been raised as The Art Newspaper went to press. H.M.