Money For Our Lady

Sitting in my provincial backwater watch Notre Dame burning – it is sad, it is a disaster, it is though, a Parisian thing. If my local cathedral (bigger and better than Notre Dame) burned down, I doubt it would get the same coverage or public sympathy. I was loathed to post about Notre Dame, but here we go.

Last Monday … just seems so long ago, so far away. Those images of Note Dame in flames have burned themselves away and now everything will be okay as business billionaires stump up cash for the restoration. President Macron promises that cathedral will be fully restored and good as new within five years – just in time for the 2024 Olympic games in Paris.

Though a religious building, Notre Dame cathedral is not the property of the French Church, but the French state – meaning it is the French taxpayer that pays for the upkeep. Before burning down, the cathedral was undergoing a 150 million restoration. No one knows how much it will cost to restore now, but private donors have come up with nearly a billion Euros, and I am happy with that.

In France we love taxes, and without private funds, I daresay that we all might have been subjected to a one off « restoration tax » – Of course, a new tax is never a « one off »

There are 38 million households in France registered for tax, 16 million of whom actually pay income tax, bringing in just over 77 billon Euros for the government in 2018.

To rake in a billion Euros for Notre Dame, a restoration tax might only have meant a few Euros on the individual income tax bill, but the Yellow vest movement is still strong, the price of petrol has never been so high, and just last week major gas and electricity providers announced price hikes of up to 6% in their tariffs – this is not the time to ask French people to dig a little deeper to restore a cathedral.

Way back when people built churches and cathedrals, they were never state enterprises anyway. Whether it were a noble or knight, laden with booty, fresh back from the Crusades, or beating up the French – or be it a merchant who had made a million in business (usury)– it was standard practise to fund some kind of religious edifice, either to thank God for good fortune, or get forgiveness for all those sins committed in the getting of wealth.

I find it therefore normal that philanthropically-minded millionaires stump up a bit of cash to restore Notre Dame – after all, we don’t have a wealth tax in France, so this « feel good » donation suits everyone.

Of course, this is France. Money is a taboo subject. It is kind if ironical, there are thousands of yellow vests on the street every weekend, campaigning for decent living wages, but we are in a country where money (or wealth) is considered as immoral, even obscene. You ain’t got enough money to live – go out and protest or strike for more, but you got too much money, that’s almost sinful. So, get forgiveness for your sins by throwing money at Notre Dame. BUT even that is viewed with disdain, by those on the radical fringes of French politics.

A lady from the French Workers Party on the radio last week complaining it was obscene that there were so many millionaires with so much money and they could throw it at Notre Dame, rather than giving it to the needy.

A last word on easing a guilty conscience – it is going to take around 2000 oak trees to rebuild the roof of Notre Dame. The appeal is going out for oak, and one English landowner has promised 50 trees from his estate – in his words “as redemption for what English ancestors had done to the French in the 100 Years War.”