These remarkable initiatives to introduce young people to church furniture

These remarkable initiatives to introduce young people to church furniture

What is an ambo? A ciborium? What was a chair for? Faced with the erasure of the “codes” of Christian culture, associations and dioceses are increasing educational initiatives, starting from a sensitive approach: the contemplation of beauty and the curiosity that follows.

One day, Pascale Moulier listened to a friend go into ecstasy over a wrought iron cross: “Look,” he said, “the blacksmith even represented his tools. » Archivist of the diocese of Saint-Flour (Cantal), she disabuses him: “This hammer, these nails and these pincers are the instruments of the Passion of Christ. » Pascale Moulier measures, in the light of this mistake, how much her contemporaries have now “lost the codes” of religious history, Christian symbols and the use of liturgical objects and furniture.

“For around thirty years, “symbolic illiteracy” – as Pope Francis calls it – has increased to such an extent that we are now witnessing a break between generations, confirms Father Gautier Mornas, secretary of States General of Religious Heritage, led this year by the Conference of Bishops of France (CEF). This rupture concerns not only the transmission of faith but also that of benchmarks that we still consider essential to understanding our culture. »

In this difficult context, he highlights two positive elements: “The taste for beauty continues; curiosity seems all the more keen when people are aware that they don't know. » Levers, according to him, “on which to work to welcome them and make them understand the meaning of these objects. »

Father Mornas thus cites the annual educational role of Church Night: “We offer a concert, an exhibition, a conference to a public who will then discover the organ, the altarpiece or the collection of chasubles. » No question of catechizing, but of providing keys to understanding. “People go to museums more than a few decades ago. The installation of works and furniture by contemporary artists can thus bring them across the threshold of churches,” adds Laurent du Mesnil du Buisson, president of the Parisian association Art, culture and faith.

Narrate the usage and context

At the Museum of Sacred Art, in Dijon (Côte-d'Or), if she defends a completely secular project, Florence Monamy, head of the Action center aimed at the public, observes the same curiosity: “For each of the pieces of As with religious paintings, statues, etc., we take care to place the object in its art historical context on our labels. Then we explain in the most accessible way possible its function in ritual or references to religious history, these questions often coming up from our visitors. » Visitors whose number has also increased in 2023.

Convinced of this “growing expectation of explanations”, Pascale Moulier and her colleague Marie-Sophie Guéring, responsible for communications at the diocese of Saint-Flour, launched “La minute patrimoine” in 2020. It is a video capsule which answers in less than two minutes a question such as: what is a procession banner? An ex-voto? A cathedra? By taking examples from the churches of Cantal but being careful to address the whole of France. Thus, 33 short films are available on different social networks, some having exceeded 10,000 views!

Capture everyone's attention

The younger generations represent a particular challenge. To reach them, the operation “The largest museum in France”, from the La Sauvegarde de l'art français foundation, offers schoolchildren the opportunity to choose an art object to be restored in a church near their establishment.

In Paris, the diocesan association Les Trésors de Paris organizes visiting tours. At the Saint-Séverin church, in the 5th arrondissement, Anne Dillinger, volunteer tour guide, calls out to her group: “Children, do you know what we call that desk over there, where we read the sacred texts of the Bible? » The sixth graders from the Sainte-Élisabeth college surrounding it are dropping out…

“I'll give you a rebus,” the young woman then suggests, reviving the interest of her audience who then easily find the word “ambo”. “A good method to capture their attention!” » smiles Anne Dillinger who also distributed to them the game booklets published by Les Trésors de Paris. They will have to complete them later with their teacher as a memory aid.

“We make them aware that these objects are not arranged by chance in space, that there is coherence between the architecture and the furniture,” explains Florence de Langlais, president of the association. Thus, the baptistery is almost always placed on the north side, because the baptized leaves from Darkness to go towards the Light. »

More difficult to explain the meaning of objects that are no longer used: “But it is an opportunity to tell how the liturgy has evolved over the centuries: in the past the priest made his voice resonate thanks to the “sound-proof ”, the canopy above the pulpit. The word amuses them, and they will remember that all this was happening before the invention of microphones. »

As part of the States General of Religious Heritage, Gautier Mornas works to bring together, in each diocese, the Youth Ministry service and the Sacred Art commission. In the hope that this operation will inspire vocations for art and heritage professions. In the hope also that the spirituality of the works of art touches some people deeply: according to a recent CEF survey, many adults baptized this year began their journey towards faith after being “grabbed”, “amazed » by the beauty of the churches and their contents.

Zoom into the heart of the Saint-Séverin church (Paris)

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