After weeks of grappling with plans to sell a 12th-century abbey church, the French town of Châteaudun has decided to call off the deal. The town’s proposal was dashed after the Catholic community banded together to submit a petition. Further, the Catholic Church was able to lean on an old law that names them the beneficiaries of the property.
Aleteia reported on January 2 that the nearly 900-year-old La Madeleine church had caught the eye of Julien Cohen, auctioneer and host of the French TV show Done Deal. Cohen commented that the church was exactly what he needed for the site of a new center to sell second-hand goods. The plan was to use the new store as a boon to the local economy, but the problem was that no one informed the Church.
The Diocese of Chartres, which encompasses Châteaudun, was only informed of the prospective sale indirectly when the story broke to the press, in late December. They expressed their amazement over the plan.
The Tablet explains that the law cedes ownership of all pre-20th-century Church structures to the government, but the Catholic Church retains rights to them in perpetuity:
Under French law, the state owns church buildings built before 1905 but assigns them to the Church for “legal, exclusive, free, permanent and perpetual” use, it reminded the would-be buyer. “So there can be no de facto decommissioning.”
While the law was most likely enough to stop the efforts on its own, the Catholics of Châteaudun also submitted a petition to stop the sale. The petition drew some 2,800 signatures, which is all the more impressive considering the population of the town is fewer than 13,000.
For his part, Julien Cohen did not try to fight the public outcry. He explained that he never meant to court controversy with the acquisition. He said in a statement:
“I am not going to fight to build an antique auction house in Châteaudun. If it’s Châteaudun, so much the better, if not, we’ll go elsewhere.”
Cohen has moved on to set his sights on a different site in Châteaudun, a medieval-era hospital called Hôtel-Dieu, or hostel of God. This location is not expected to cause the same altercation as La Madeleine church, but if he can’t get it he may move on to a different town. There are plenty of such former Catholic properties available in France, where it is estimated that 30 disused churches are sold each year.