The Sacré-Coeur, a place of perpetual prayer which is also one of the most visited monuments in Paris, will be classified as a "historical monument" after years of controversy around a building that has long symbolized the division between two France, one ultra-Catholic and the other anticlerical.
Tuesday, at the Paris Council, elected officials gave the green light to ask the State to grant the famous basilica this recognition which gives it the highest level of protection.
Built at the top of the Montmartre hill to the north of the capital, this white stone building in the Romano-Byzantine style, 85 meters high, is both a monument familiar to Parisians and an essential stopover for tourists, with "nearly 11 million visitors each year", according to its rector, Father Stéphane Esclef.
Why does this ranking only occur today?
The history of this sanctuary dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, property of the town hall of Paris, is sensitive.
Its construction was launched three years after the defeat of France against Prussia (1870) and two years after the Commune (March to May 1871), a bloody insurrectionary episode which began with the capture of cannons at the site of the building. In 1873, the National Assembly, dominated by conservatives, declared the basilica of public utility.
"The building, from the outset, carries the opinion of a politically very divisive fringe, the ultra-Catholics" who want "to put down a district deemed insurrectionary in the north-east of Paris", but also "to expiate the Commune of 1871 as well than all the revolutions since 1789”, explains to AFP Eric Fournier, lecturer at the University Paris-I Panthéon-Sorbonne.
Since then, he has been associated with the repressive “moral order” of the time. The monument, which took a very long time to be built (from 1875 to 1923), has regularly been the subject of controversy between politicians and between historians, until Tuesday during a short debate at the Council of Paris.
"The culmination of this repression is the erection of this odious religious edifice on these deaths, which are estimated at nearly 30.000", declared the elected Communist Raphaëlle Primet for whom "this classification remains an affront to the memory of the communards”.
The ecologists, other allies, abstained, while the Insoumise Danielle Simonnet, she in the opposition, denounced an "apology for the murder of 32.000 communards".
“This decision appears as a new burial of this revolution”, “an additional step against this memory”, added Sylvie Braibant, co-president of the association Les Amis de la Commune (2.500 members).
But for Eric Fournier, who nevertheless claims to be “left-wing”, this “memorial conflict today is a rearguard fight” when “we see how familiar the monument has become over the years”.
Karen Taïeb, the heritage assistant of the City of Paris, argued that “the classification includes[ed] the square Louise Michel, which bears the name of a great personality of the Commune”. This “allows us to create a dialogue between these two stories without forgetting either of them”.
Concretely, the classification as historical monuments will allow any work to be covered "up to 40% of the budget" by the Drac (Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs), against 20% for an inscription, the lower level of protection obtained in 2020, said Ms. Taïeb.
“Even if history has been turbulent, we cannot stay with a backward-looking vision of things, we have to move forward and see that this place is now emblematic”, underlines Father Stéphane Esclef.
Among the main projects that he "wants to see completed", include "facilitated access for people with reduced mobility" but also "renovation work on the Cavaillé-Coll organ, which has been in a deplorable state for six years".
In the longer term, he would like to "open the crypt to visitors", which is currently impossible "because in terms of security, the means of access are not suitable to accommodate a large number" of people.
The new status of the basilica is also a welcome decision, while the town hall of the XNUMXth arrondissement is campaigning to obtain the registration of the Montmartre hillock as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A spiritual journey
According to Sacred Heart website, the construction of the basilica would have no connection with the Commune. He explains that in 1870 when France was faced with military defeat and the occupation of part of the country by German troops, Alexandre Legentil and Hubert Rohault de Fleury undertook a “spiritual approach”.
“They vow to build a Church consecrated to the Heart of Christ 'in reparation'” considering that the difficulties of France come from spiritual and not political causes.
A wish finally approved in 1872 by Cardinal Guibert, Archbishop of Paris, who chose Montmartre to build this place of worship.
According to the same source, Alexandre Legentil shared his idea in a letter addressed to Boylesve's father dated December 8, 1870. However, as the site indicates, the Commune having taken place between March 18 and May 28, 1871, "M Legentil could not have known of these events when issuing his Wish”.
The Sacred Heart is a place of perpetual prayer. Thus, since 1er August 1885 people take turns day and night within its walls to pray, with a particular intention for peace in the world.
Camille Westphal Perrier (with AFP)