SHOULD people pay to visit France’s 77 cathedrals? – the question is under consideration by the Culture Ministry.
The ministry is reportedly pondering whether or not to change the policy of allowing free entry. With some 14 million visitors a year at Notre-Dame de Paris alone (the same as Disneyland Paris), entry fees would represent substantial income for the state.
As a result of historic agreements on church-state separation, the Culture Ministry is responsible for upkeep of the cathedrals as mairies are responsible for old churches.
Le Figaro says the idea of getting visitors to contribute more to the coffers was raised during a recent meeting between the ministry, the Centre des Monuments Nationaux and senior civil servants.
However, so far no decision has been taken on the issue.
“Why not have paying entry to visit, but keep it free if you are attending a service,” one participant in the meeting asked, adding that this could help towards preserving the buildings and protecting their works of art.
French cathedrals already have paying access to certain areas – visiting the church “treasures” (often about €4), or €8.50 to go up the Notre-Dame towers.
However, no cathedrals charge for access to the main areas, unlike in the UK, where it costs £18 (€23) to visit Westminister Abbey or £15 (€19) at Saint Paul’s.
The Catholic Church in France remains staunchly opposed, the rector of Notre-Dame having said it goes against the church-state separation agreements which he said stipulated that people should have free access to worship.
A spokeswoman for the bishops of France told Le Figaro: “A church is a place of prayer, even for some tourists – a place of possible conversion and refuge. It must be open to all.”
A senior priest for Strasbourg cathedral which is the second most visited, with four million visitors, told Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace: “The figures don’t give the full picture and don’t distinguish between people who come once and people who come almost every day. Paying entry would automatically mean fewer people would come.”
Photo: Nicolas Buffler/ www.flickr.com