July 18, 2020

FRANCE: Historic 15th Century Gothic Cathedral Was Set On Fire By Arsonist On Saturday Morning In The Western French city of Nantes.

ITV News published July 18, 2020: An arson inquiry has been launched after a fire broke out in the famed Gothic cathedral of St Peter and St Paul in the western French city of Nantes.

Global News published July 18, 2020: Arson is suspected following a fire at a historic 15th-century cathedral in the western French city of Nantes on Saturday, officials said.

The Guardian, UK
written by Reuters in Nantes
Saturday July 18, 2020

A fire that broke out in a cathedral in the western French city of Nantes blew out stained-glass windows and destroyed the grand organ in the 15th-century building, officials said.

A local prosecutor said three fires were started at the St Peter and St Paul Cathedral and authorities were treating the incident as a criminal act. An investigation has been opened.

Firefighters brought the blaze under control after several hours, but smoke was still coming out of the Gothic structure late on Saturday morning.

The blaze comes just over a year after a massive fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris destroyed its roof and main spire.

“After Notre Dame, the St Peter and St Paul Cathedral is in flames. Support to the firemen who are taking all the risks to save the Gothic jewel,” the French president, Emmanuel Macron, tweeted from Brussels where he was attending an EU summit.

The local fire chief, Laurent Ferlay, said 104 firefighters were at the site to ensure the blaze was under control. He said the fire broke out behind the grand organ.

The damage was not as bad as initially feared. “We are not in a Notre Dame scenario. The roof has not been touched,” Ferlay said.

The French prime minister, Jean Castex, as well as the culture and interior ministers were due to visit the scene later in the day. “I want to know what happened, even if it’s very early,” Castex said.

Jean-Yves Burban, who runs a newsagent facing the cathedral, said he had opened his business and heard a bang at around 7.30am. He went outside to see huge flames coming from the building.

“I am shook up because I’ve been here eight years and I see the cathedral every morning and evening,” he said. “It’s our cathedral and I’ve got tears in my eyes.”

It was not the first time fire has damaged the cathedral. It was partly destroyed during the second world war in 1944, and in 1972 a fire ravaged its wooden roof. It was replaced 13 years later with a concrete structure.

“The fire of 1972 is in our minds, but at this stage the situation is not comparable,” said the city mayor, Johanna Rolland.

In 2015 a fire that appeared to have been caused by renovation work destroyed most of the roof of another church in Nantes, the Basilica of St Donatian and St Rogatian.

The Hill
written by Ashley McGuire
May 23, 2019

The fires that ravaged Paris’ iconic Notre Dame have long been extinguished but a deeper problem for France’s churches still smolders. Specifically, France has seen an alarming spate of attacks on churches, most of them Catholic, and they suggest a growing hostility towards Catholicism and religion more broadly in French society.

Just weeks before the Notre Dame blaze and just blocks away, the Church of St. Sulpice — the second largest church in Paris and one of the most historically significant — was set on fire after Sunday mass.

A month prior to that, a different Notre Dame, the Church of Notre-Dame-des-Enfants in Nimes, saw its tabernacle destroyed and hosts — considered to be the real body of Christ and thus sacred to Catholics — thrown on the ground and smashed into a cross made with human excrement.

A month prior to that, a statue of the Virgin Mary was found shattered at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houilles in northern France while on the opposite end of the country, Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur had its altar cloth burned and a number of saint statues smashed.

Urine in holy water. Decapitated statues of Jesus. Satanic symbols scrawled on the walls. Perhaps we have become numb to the profane in a culture so thoroughly steeped in the likes of Game of Thrones, but these acts are shocking, in particular in a country known to Catholics as the “eldest daughter of the Church.” As one historian put it, “When somebody tramples on a host, it’s as if the whole church is being stomped on.”

And while authorities have pointed fingers one way and another, blaming everything from homeless people to rowdy teenagers, the vandalism is clearly directed at the most sacred elements of Catholicism.

And sometimes it is explicitly political, as it was when vandals spray-painted the words “blessed abortion” on the walls of Saint-Jacques Church in Grenoble or “our lives, our bodies belong to us” on The Cathedral of Saint-Jean of Besançon or “Satan punishes homophobes” on Toulouse’s Saint-Roch-du-Férétra Chapel, as noted by one religious freedom expert.

And the vandalism is only escalating; The Vienna-based Observatory of Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe notes a 25 percent increase in attacks on Catholic Churches in 2019 as compared with the prior year. Its executive director, Ellen Fantini, told the press that the attacks are clearly motivated and targeted at what matters most to Catholics. “The pressure,” she said, “is coming from the radical secularists or anti-religion groups as well as feminist activists who tend to target churches as a symbol of the patriarchy that needs to be dismantled.”

French bishops have been more reticent. In an interview with a French magazine, the head of the French bishops conference Archbishop Georges Pontier said, "We adopt a reasonable attitude. We do not want to develop a discourse of persecution. We do not wish to complain. We are not victims of a 'Cathophobia'.” Rather he pointed to the rise in anti-Semitism acts and violence in French society as cause for concern.

But the reality is that the safety and rights of all religious faiths are undermined when the rights of one are systematically violated without clear legal ramifications. A nation that does little or nothing to secure the houses of worship of one faith from hateful acts only emboldens the enemies of other faiths to take similar action. Jews are less safe in a France where Catholic Churches are violated and no action is taken. The religious rights and security of all people hang in the balance when the rights of one are destabilized. That is a reality about the rule of law that France needs to wake up to sooner rather than later.

Not long after Saint-Jacques Church was vandalized with the words “blessed abortion,” it burned to the ground. Officials called it an electrical fire, but as a religious freedom expert noted, an anarchist group claimed responsibility on a website entitled “Le seule eglise qui…” a reference to the anarchist expression, “The only church that illuminates is a burning church.”

And yet after five acts of vandalism on Catholic Churches in one week, the response of the French Prime Minister was to tweet, “In our secular republic we respect the places of worship. Such acts shock me and must be unanimously condemned.”

The cathedral of Notre Dame burned before the world for a harrowing day before it was extinguished. It’s going to take a lot more than a tweet to solve France’s deeper church-fire problem.

I took a screenshot for you shared above of just a few incidents attacking Christianity in France. French journalist Daniel Hamiche documents daily attacks on Christianity in France. You can CLICK HERE to read the entire list of daily attacks on Christianity in all over France that don't get any news coverage.


Hudson Institute
written by Nina Shea, Director, Center for Religious Freedom
May 2, 2019

On Easter Sunday in France, a fire originating in a Notre Dame confessional received little attention. That Notre Dame was not the great cathedral in Paris, but an ordinary church in Tarascon, near Marseille. In February, Notre Dame of Dijon was vandalized, with Hosts scattered about. At Notre Dame Church in Nimes, a cross was recently drawn on the wall using excrement and consecrated Communion Hosts. Notre Dame of France Catholic bookstore was vandalized last September. None of the attacks on these other Notre Dames drew much notice, either.

The flames that ravaged Paris’ Notre Dame riveted the world because it is a legendary, architectural masterpiece at the center of France’s capital and much of its political history. For those who track religious-freedom threats, the fire itself may be less of a surprise than that it apparently was started by accident.

Hundreds of other French churches are being quietly burned or damaged — in deliberate attacks.

Ellen Fantini, who directs the watchdog Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, told me in an email that church attacks in France have been relentless for the past four years. Thanks to her efforts and the diligent documentation of French journalist Daniel Hamiche, I can point to a few examples here. This destruction, at the hands of a variety of actors, barely receives a glance from the French state, prosecutors, media or public. Rarely are the attackers identified or apprehended.

We also see this happening to churches in Northern Cyprus, Egypt, northern Nigeria and other places where certain members of society are hostile to a small and weak Christian community and the government itself is indifferent.

To be sure, unlike these other places and in Sri Lanka over Easter, the French churches are not filled with worshippers when attacked — or, for that matter, hardly ever filled these days. Nevertheless, it is a shock to see the same governmental failure to protect houses of worship in a country with a strong rule of law.

The overwhelming majority of French churches attacked are Catholic, but some have been Protestant and Eastern Orthodox. As Fantini commented, “They [the churches] don’t seem high on the agenda when it comes to the political will to provide protection.” As a result, French Christian churches are being gradually destroyed, one by one. We cannot expect this to stop until there is adequate state protection and an end to legal impunity. To do that, France needs to identify the circumstances and motives of those behind the attacks.

In March, St. Sulpice, Paris’ second-largest church after Notre Dame, was the site of a fire that was officially declared arson. Its pastor, Msgr. Jean-Loup Lacroix, reported that homeless people started the fire but did not do so out of religious hatred. In many cases the unprotected churches are preyed on by thieves, which indicates criminal intent, if not hatred. The Cathedral of Saint-Louis in Fort de France, for example, was robbed five times last December. Ten churches in two weeks, in two dioceses, were looted in February, though, in a rare example of police action, two men were arrested.

But many times, the culprits are a variety of extremists enraged by the identities and teachings that the churches symbolize — Christianity, French nationalism and Western civilization at large. Even the Cathedral of Notre Dame’s burning is perceived by some as a “liberation,” as a Harvard professor informed Rolling Stone. The magazine explained that the cathedral served for some French as a “deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution and an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place.”

Ironically, they are targeting churches, when, as a 2018 Pew survey found, only 18% of the French attend church even monthly, and the churches’ influence over French politics and culture is diminishing to the vanishing point. While arrests are few, a mix of ideologies and motives is readily apparent from the graffiti the vandals often leave. They are shown to be radical secularists, anarchists, leftists, feminists, sexual libertarians, Islamists, radical Muslims and a Satanist group, which religion scholar Massimo Introvigne says is minuscule in France. Due to the breadth of hostile forces, Fantini calls France the “worst country in Europe” for Christians.

In January, Grenoble’s Saint-Jacques Church burned to the ground shortly after the slogan blessed abortion was graffitied on it during a right-to-life rally there. An anarcho-libertarian group claimed responsibility on the blog site “Le seule église qui …” . The site’s name references an infamous early-20th-century anarchist slogan: “The only church that illuminates is a burning church.” Officials had quickly pronounced it an electrical fire from a short-circuit and dismissed the anarchists as “opportunists.” The investigation continues.

Last July, after Saint-Pierre du Matroi Church in Orléans was attacked by arson, “Allahu akbar” was found graffitied on its surviving walls. The Cathedral of Saint-Jean of Besançon was vandalized with the slogan “our lives, our bodies belong to us” and the anarchist “A.”

The Basilica of Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Chaumont was spray-painted with anarchist symbols and the word “Satan” with a heart symbol. Last year, the façade and double doors of the 1,000-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg were graffitied with the anarchist motto “Neither God nor Master.” Graffiti on the Saint-Roch-du-Férétra Chapel in Toulouse stated: “Church on fire,” “Dirty priest” and “Satan punishes homophobes.”

Islamist terrorists and other radicalized Muslims have led France’s most deadly attacks against Christians: the Islamists who slit the throat of Father Jacques Hamel in Normandy’s Saint-Etienne du Rouvray while he celebrated morning Mass in 2016 and those who conducted the ISIS-inspired terrorist attack on Strasbourg’s Christmas Market in December, which killed five and wounded a dozen. These perpetrators were shot by police. Arrests occurred in the cases of radicalized Muslims who showed up at the Cathedral Saint-Vincent de Chalon-sur-Saône and the 13th-century Cathedral of Notre Dame in Reims, threatening to blow them up, as well as in the case of a Syrian woman, wearing a Venetian face mask, who entered Sainte-Marie-Madeleine and took an ax to the holy water font, a side altar bas relief and a statue, where she placed a Quran — all in front of terrified congregants.

In September 2016, a Moroccan Muslim man was arrested reportedly for being a serial church arsonist, setting fires to three churches in Millau. Outside Paris, police arrested an Algerian Muslim man suspected of planning an attack on “one or two churches,” as he was reportedly advised to do by a contact in Syria.

Numerous unidentified vandals, acting with clear anti-Catholic animus, have aimed at what Catholics hold most sacred, the consecrated Hosts. Statues of Jesus and Mary have been shattered, defaced or beheaded and crosses broken or turned upside down. Christian cemeteries have reported hundreds of grave stones toppled and graffitied, including with blue Nazi swastikas, like those recently found desecrating France’s Jewish cemeteries.

Church leaders themselves seem reluctant to discuss the attacks.

“We do not want to develop a discourse of persecution. We do not wish to complain,” Archbishop Georges Pontier, who heads the French bishops’ conference, said when asked about the church attacks in March. He redirected press attention instead to French anti-Semitism, which is also a serious threat, though he did tell the Register such incidents were taken seriously. I was reminded of what veteran Church scholar George Weigel observed a decade ago, “Too many European bishops have internalized a sense of their own irrelevance and the Church’s.”

The outpouring of emotion, prayers and funds after the Notre Dame blaze was heartening. And the heroic demonstration of faith of Father Jean-Marc Fournier, the Paris fire brigade chaplain who rescued from the burning cathedral the Blessed Sacrament, chalices, monstrances and sacred relics, was especially inspirational.

No graffiti or claim of responsibility has surfaced to suggest that the Notre Dame fire was anything but an accident. And while the example of Notre Dame may not rekindle appreciation for France’s Christian patrimony, it should stir a demand for the government to protect it.

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