The Monumental Battle to Save French Monuments

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The Saint-Denis basilica in a northern suburb of Paris houses the bodies of all but three Kings of France. Built in the 6th century, this historic structure is older than Notre Dame de Paris. And yet, it has looked lopsided since 1846, and has been allowed to remain that way since.

basilica saint denis spire no spireOver 270 years ago, the spire on the Saint-Denis basilica was struck by lightning and had to be disassembled stone by stone for safety reasons. The assembly plans are still available and legible, the stones are accounted for and mostly still in tact, and the local government is ready to move forward with the plan. The problem? 13 million euros, or really, the lack of 13 million euros. And the monument’s commission said no, because cost burden would fall on local taxpayers.

France has many monuments embroiled in restoration arguments at local, historical, and financial levels. From the parishes dotting the countryside to the commanding Saint-Eustache in Paris, all kinds of structures are suffering from the disagreements and budget shortages.

One of France’s head architects for France’s historic monuments, Jean-Francois Lagneau says that the government is aware of the problems, but has to prioritize: “In France we have the national heritage agency that keeps track of all the buildings that are protected, as they are of historical importance. They know what the emergencies are.” 

Restoration efforts have not been without success. Lagneau restored the Richelieu National Library, which hadn’t been “cleaned up” since 1868, and adapted it to modern needs. His most recent project was the Tour Saint Jacques, and he now hopes to work on Eglise Saint-Gervais. As for the Saint-Denis basilica, ex-president Francois Hollande approved rebuilding the spire in February, and reconstruction began in March.

See the full France24 report on building restoration above.

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