Practical advice, legislation, contacts... What you need to know to save a church in danger

Practical advice, legislation, contacts… What you need to know to save a church in danger

1 – Set up or join an association

Create or join a 1901 law association which will be responsible for defending the interest of the building and providing, if necessary, for its development, once the restoration is complete. This structure will make it possible to create local events to interest the population in saving the monument and to raise funds which can supplement the financing of the work. A close-knit team of volunteers who complement each other well, where everyone has their role (creating files, communication, organizing events, legal knowledge, etc.), is already a good asset. Some owners, well aware of the issues, set up an association themselves with their initial supporters.

2 – Meet your owner

For churches built before 1905, the owner is the municipality. It is also possible that this is the diocese for recent chapels or churches, or a private person – in particular for castle chapels. Sometimes also, the association is required to buy back the property it seeks to save. Obviously, nothing can be done if the mayor is not convinced that the necessary work must be carried out and that it is appropriate to seek funding for this often costly work together. This therefore remains the first step to take. It is also important to convince the parishioners, the priest and even the bishop of the interest of the approach.

3 – Mediate

By notifying the local press of each event linked to the monument, the association will help to publicize its action in its favor. Concerts, shows, festive buffets – the proceeds of which will go towards catering – are also good ways of making the project of the association, the municipality and the parish known to the population and beyond. It is also important to create and keep a website up to date. This presents the building, the actions undertaken to save it, the planned project, the activities around it and invites everyone to participate.

4- Together, think about the future

If the church is no longer served by its assignee (in this case the Catholic Church), it seems all well and good to restore it, of course, but for what purpose? Imagining a real project and consulting experts in this sense before the restoration if we envisage a real change of use (architects, even town planners, possibly scenographers), is essential. It is also essential to check the perception of the project among the population and the Christian community, so as not to hurt them through reuse which could divert the meaning of the building. If this is still used, we should nevertheless not neglect thinking about complementary uses. Because if it remains in poor condition, it is often partly linked to insufficient attendance.

5 – Establish a restoration plan

This must be done after having inquired about the classification, or not, of the building on the list of historic monuments (and therefore likely to receive public subsidies). Costed, the total plan must be established with a project manager who will be the chief architect of historic monuments (in the case of a “listed” monument) or a heritage architect in other cases (“listed” monument or not). protected by the state). For unprotected heritage, you can obtain information from the Council for Architecture, Town Planning and the Environment (CAUE), at the level of your department. The principle is always to put a building “out of water and out of air” before considering any other restoration. It is easier to then divide the project into successive sections to facilitate the search for aid and patronage.

6 – Call on patronage

State subsidies rarely exceed 50% of the cost of the work, and even then, for listed historic monuments. They sometimes go up to 40% for registered monuments. Since 2018, a special incentive fund has made it possible to increase these subsidies by around 10% for buildings and works of art in small communities. “Small heritage”, neither classified nor registered, for example a rural chapel, must contact the Heritage Foundation to obtain advice and assistance in setting up a public subscription, which will be supplemented by the Foundation. To complete this, the association can also launch a crowdfunding campaign on social networks and turn to other patrons: banks, local businesses, prizes awarded by heritage defense associations or… by our Grand Prix Pèlerin du Patrimoine .


  • “We must first identify the people we are talking to in order to receive support. The departmental delegate of La Sauvegarde de l’art français can help you find your way. Then, a preliminary study is sometimes necessary. Our foundation can contribute to its financing. Regarding movable assets, in the event of infiltration, it is essential to protect them. But first of all, contact the curator of antiques and works of art in your department. Finally, many churches are closed, among other things, due to the risk of vandalism. This is all the more detrimental as a church needs to be ventilated so as not to concentrate too much humidity. The unit of the Ministry of Culture in charge of the fight against the theft of furniture will help you secure it.” ALEXIA MONTEILLET, project manager at La Sauvegarde de l’art français
  • It is important to choose your craftsmen carefully. The Qualibat label distinguishes those who are qualified to carry out heritage restorations. Often, communities call on local companies they know, but they are not always qualified. If their quote seems cheaper, the restoration they offer is not always sustainable. However, certain professions, such as master glassmaker, are not affected by this label. You must therefore turn to an architect from Bâtiments de France or a heritage architect. On the financing side, in addition to the Drac for listed monuments, also ask the region and the department which sometimes have funds to help the municipalities.”YANN DE CARNÉ, president of the GMH (French group of companies restoring historic monuments)
  • Create enthusiasm through a collection. “Multiple sources of funding exist for the restoration of unclassified churches. Appealing to civil society through patronage and donations, as we do at the Heritage Foundation, is wise. By launching a collection, you will encourage a craze: residents will mobilize, traders will be able to sell a product for the benefit of subscription, local associations will organize events… So many gestures which will show communities and patrons that the place is worth saving. In the Ardennes , the commune of Fréty, which has 63 inhabitants, managed, thanks to 529 donations, to raise more than 35,000 euros! The Foundation contributed 15,000 euros. But to achieve such a result, you have to devote time to it. Before you get started, contact our departmental delegate or one of our 800 volunteers. And go to our new platform, where you will find the answers to your questions.” CÉLIA VEROT, general director of the Heritage Foundation
  • Provide financial and technical support. “Churches built after 1905 belong to the dioceses. At Chantiers du Cardinal, we are therefore asked by the treasurers of the Ile-de-France dioceses to provide them with financial and sometimes technical support. These modern churches must be brought up to accessibility standards: by installing access ramps and elevators for people with reduced mobility, as well as magnetic loops for the hearing impaired. The most frequent work concerns the repair of roofs, the electrical network and heating. During renovations, buildings are better insulated , thanks to efficient boilers and lighting systems that consume less energy. Furthermore, new materials – such as reinforced concrete –, widely used in the 20th century, require particular attention, because they have their limits. Finally, it is sometimes necessary to remove asbestos from buildings, often a significant budget.” JÉRÔME TOLOT, general director of Chantiers du Cardinal

In numbers

  • 42,258 Catholic churches and chapels were counted in France in 2019 by the Conference of Bishops of France.
  • 26,723 of these churches are considered “of heritage interest” by the General Inventory of Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture.
  • 489 functioning or disused churches threatened ruin in 2019; 45 were demolished between 2010 and 2019, according to the Pilgrim Institute of Heritage.

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