in Sévigny-Waleppe (Ardennes), residents ready to do anything to save their church

in Sévigny-Waleppe (Ardennes), residents ready to do anything to save their church

The Heritage Foundation has revealed the first hundred beneficiaries of the national collection for rural religious heritage. An approach inseparable from campaign mobilization. Like in Sévigny-Waleppe, in the Ardennes, where the inhabitants are ready to do anything to save their church from collapse.

The cool wind rushes through the tangle of beams and cracked stones. Thirty meters further down, Éric Guirsch, mayor of Sévigny-Waleppe (Ardennes), frowns. A too powerful gust should not take away the bell tower. Closed to the public for security reasons, the Saint-Leu church in this village of 230 inhabitants is nicknamed the “Ardennes Pisa”.

For more than a century, the bell tower has been leaning dangerously due to the poor condition of the framework. So, inevitably, when the councilor learned that the 12th century church, listed as a historic monument, appeared on the list of the first hundred beneficiaries of the national collection in favor of religious buildings in municipalities with less than 10,000 inhabitants, published on April 26, he felt “a great relief.” Since his election in 2020, he has worked hard to try to obtain funds at the departmental and regional level. The support of its citizens testifies to a strong, almost filial, attachment to their village church.

This affection of the rural world for its bell towers goes far beyond the borders of Sévigny-Waleppe and has not escaped the government. Already, last June, Emmanuel Macron took advantage of a visit to Mont-Saint-Michel, a symbol of “the French spirit of resilience, resistance, creativity and imagination”, to solemnize his commitment to bell towers, large and small. . Heritage brings people together, he understood that well.

After the wave of emotion and generosity caused by the fire at Notre-Dame de Paris in 2019, for which 800 million euros in donations were collected, Emmanuel Macron is launching with great fanfare, in September 2023, a vast subscription national for rural religious heritage. It's urgent! One building in ten – or some 5,000 buildings – would be in danger, estimates the Heritage Foundation, responsible for the operation and which is aiming for a target of 200 million euros in four years. The State has granted an exceptional tax reduction: 75% for donations of less than 1,000 euros. To announce the winners, the Minister of Culture, Rachida Dati, traveled to Jussy-Champagne (Cher) on April 26.

Residents at work

In this vast project, small communities are on the front line. Even if, to date, the expected amount is struggling to be reached. So far, the collection has raised 2.3 million euros thanks to 12,600 donors. Painstaking work is underway. In Sévigny-Waleppe, to save the church from collapse, the evaluation of the first phase of work amounts to 750,000 euros, the equivalent of nine times the annual budget of the municipality. Magali Guirsch, the wife of the elected official, created an association for the defense of local heritage which organizes, one Sunday a month, an activity aimed at raising funds: belote, lotto, bistro. The few hundred euros of profits will finance future work.

A child of the town, Jean-Marie, rarely misses these convivial moments: “I don’t receive a big pension but it hurts my heart to see these old stones fall; of course I want to participate,” smiles the former farmer. Magali is delighted: the interest generated via donations or messages on the Facebook page shows clear support. The preservation of heritage is about links and unity: “Heritage represents more than an undeniable factor of cohesion, it also generates dynamism, particularly in small towns”, analyzes Alexandre Giuglaris, general director of the Heritage Foundation .

“Since the 1980s and the end of the country's reconstruction, the French population has been acutely aware of the value of heritage. She is the symbolic owner,” observes Benoît de Sagazan, editor-in-chief of Bible World and director of the Pèlerin Heritage Institute. “At the time of the Ancien Régime, the inhabitants were responsible for financing the nave while the clergy were responsible for the choir. Even today, the bell tower contributes to the identity of the village. »

A visceral attachment

In her living room, Simone turns the pages of her album dedicated to Saint-Leu. The archive photos parade, systematically accompanied by an explanatory text for each restoration carried out. “This church represents my whole life,” confides the octogenarian in front of the list of around thirty family events (baptisms, weddings, funerals) which took place there. Valuable information transmitted to the architect of historic monuments in order to compile the numerous funding request files. “Certain details escape the national archives,” recognizes Jocelyn Jacquet, volunteer departmental manager of the Heritage Foundation: “These precious documents allow us to reconstruct identically and evaluate the necessary sums. »

While waiting to be able to launch a new project, Éric Guirsch continues his requests with the support of the residents. There are still a few blank pages left in Simone's album. “I will put the photos of the reopening there, won’t I, Mr. Mayor,” she slips before closing the notebook.

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