After 30 years of closure, an Aveyron church reopens thanks to a new tourist activity

After 30 years of closure, an Aveyron church reopens thanks to a new tourist activity

First there are the miners who dump their carts of coal, then the baker presenting his fouaces – local brioches – while in the miniature village square, a photographer immortalizes a married couple… Dozens of sketches of daily life in Aveyron, around 1925, performed by 250 figurines and around twenty automatons, take place like this, in the nave of Saint-Joseph in Villefranche-de-Rouergue (Aveyron), at a perfect height to make children’s eyes shine.

Since December 8, families just have to open the door of this beautiful classical-style church to discover the entertainment. Following the sound effects, dialogues and lights of a Christmas story, visitors tour around the houses… until the traditional nativity scene which ends the route. Volunteers from the local association CAP Solidarité take turns every afternoon until January 17 to welcome and answer questions about ancient professions, about the robot that manages sound and light, sometimes even about the little Jesus lying down. in the straw.

A real Christmas story

The adventure that brings them together around the Aveyron Village is also a bit like a Christmas story: the church had been closed for around thirty years, the Catholic community concentrated in the majestic collegiate church, on the other side of the bastide. In 2018, CAP Solidarité sought to revitalize the neighborhood and proposed to the mayor at the time to reopen the municipal building to give conferences. “He had just recovered the Aveyron Village from the Departmental Council,” says Jean-Marie Bugarel, municipal councilor. He therefore proposed to the association to install it permanently in Saint-Joseph and to manage the place. » “So we got into the game! » continue the two co-presidents, Christine Cayla and Delphine Trébosc.

First task: obtain permission to occupy the nave. “With the parish council,” says Father Florent Dixneuf, the priest, “we found that this beautiful idea could bring life back to the church, but it would not have made sense if Saint-Joseph did not remain assigned to the worship. I therefore asked that we keep a few rows of chairs in front of the choir to remind us that we are in the house of the Lord and that those who wish can pray there. » An agreement was thus signed between the assignee, the owner and the association which also did not want the decommissioning: “Our project would have been like an artificial flower! » sums up Christine Cayla nicely.

For the first opening, at Christmas 2019, the volunteers thoroughly cleaned the church, built a lasting base for the Village, made clothes for the figurines, found more accessories… “Everyone pitched in according to their talents . And we also asked local traders and businesses to help us and involve the population,” continues Christine Cayla. Thus, the robot loaned this year by the Swedish company ABB: “Around the sponsorship of my company, we want to raise awareness among high school students in the region and their parents about the careers of the future in robotics,” explains Matthieu Tintillier, the expert in robotics. ‘ABB who spent several of his evenings fine-tuning the settings.

A winning initiative

Saint-Joseph now also opens in the summer – without the crèche. “We had 3,000 tourists,” explains Delphine Trébosc. If the visit is free, a ballot box allows you to leave a donation. The previous ones were used to restore the portal and a stained glass window. The town hall is sealing any leaks in the roof and carrying out some interior restorations. And the Sesame Prize, awarded in 2023 by the Heritage Foundation for use projects compatible with worship, allowed CAP Solidarité to equip itself with electronic equipment and renovate the harmonium.

Father Florent says he is “stimulated by these links re-woven between residents around this example of welcome, of doors that open”. He installed explanations of religious iconography in the side chapels “for those who want to know more”. A torchlight procession, starting from the collegiate church, ended at Saint-Joseph on December 8, the day of the Immaculate Conception, before the inauguration mass of the Aveyron Village. “This Village,” Christine Cayla breathes, “gives a thousand other ideas for bringing people together! »

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