Basilica restoration may help rebuild the reputation of Saint-Denis in Paris

An ambitious scheme to reconstruct the missing spire of the basilica of Saint-Denis in the troubled Paris suburb has given the Catholic bishop of the diocese and the communist mayor a common cause.

Rebuilding spire could spark to rekindle pride

Saint-Denis made headlines as the hideout of some of the terrorists who killed 130 people in last year’s attacks and Bishop Pascal Del­annoy and Mayor Didier Pail­lard see the project as a way to unify the predominantly Mus­lim residents behind a common project and a common identity.

Although the basilica is the resting place for French kings from 10th to 18th centuries, Saint-Denis has most recently based its identity on sport and football in particular, with the nearby Stade de France built for the 1998 World Cup finals.

This year, the stadium is again a football flagship, hosting the Euro 2016 opener on June 10 plus the final a month later, and the city fathers want to use the basilica to develop the reputation of the area beyond football, crime and terrorism. Clément Aumeunier, city communications chief, said: “The basilica can become a second pillar to that identity.”

The spire was demolished in the 19th century after being hit by storms and the council is awaiting the green light from the Culture Ministry before carrying out scientific studies. Mayor Pail­lard hopes a visit from President François Hollande last September will give the plans added impetus.

Stuck in the planning stages for the past three decades, the spire project would have gone ahead in the 1980s until the question of public finances reared its head. Former mayor Patrick Braouezec and Mr Paillard have created a plan to avoid public finance.

Instead sponsorship, donations and entrance fees to the construction site, tower and spire would finance the project – similar to other high-profile historical schemes such as the building of the replica of Hermione, the frigate that carried General Lafayette to America in 1780, and Guédelon Castle, being built in Burgundy.

Original medieval techniques would be used, with iron, wood and stone workshops open to the public in a construction village alongside the basilica. Visitors would also be able to go up to the heights of the basilica to see ...

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