Paris archdiocese restores medieval college as faith forum

September 1, 2008

Main hall of the College des Bernardins in Paris, 1 Sept 2008/Charles PlatiauOne of the largest medieval buildings in Paris reopens this week as a forum for discussion about faith in the modern world after more than two centuries being used mostly as a fire station and police training centre. The Collège des Bernardins was founded in 1247 by the English Cistercian monk Stephen of Lexington as a residential college for the order’s monks. After the French Revolution, it was taken over by the city.

The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Paris bought the building and spent five years renovating it to house its theology school and host debates, conferences, art exhibitions and evenings of film and music. Its first major event will be a speech on faith and culture by Pope Benedict, who will address an audience of 700 personalities from the world of French culture on the first day of his Sept. 12-15 visit to France.

The college, whose name comes from its original designation as St. Bernard’s College, stands on the Left Bank just off the Boulevard Saint Germain. The five-year restoration highlighted the building’s simple Gothic architecture while adding modern comforts such as heating, air conditioning and WiFi (see video). The college aims “to serve mankind in all its dimensions — its emotions, its intelligence, its liberty, its relations and its faith”.

Hall and classrooms (right) in College des Bernardins in paris, 1 Sept 2008/Charles PlatiauThe city’s archbishop, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, told journalists during a pre-opening media tour that the Catholic Church needed to promote discussion with modern society. “Our Christian faith, our Christian tradition and wisdom are today immersed in a pluri-religious and pluri-cultural society. Despite the generous and multiple forms of religion on offer, many of our contemporaries do not belong to a specific religion, or have no religion or belief at all.” The discussions will bring together Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and non-believers, to discuss issues including culture, economics, international development and Christian-Jewish relations. Another issue will be the effects of scientific progress on society and questions of bioethics, he said. “How will human identity — what it means to be a man or a woman — be respected and promoted? Will it be reduced to the roll of a tool for the well-being of a few?

Cardinal André Vingt-Trois during media tour of College des Bernardins, 1 Sept 2008/Tom Heneghan

“All these questions face us. We don’t all have the same answer. We don’t always have an answer. But we are all confronted with these questions and we cannot avoid them, unless we consider human history to be a fate that mankind cannot change. That is not our conviction.”

The college is the largest civil building in Paris dating from the Middle Ages. Only Notre Dame Cathedral and a few other major medieval churches are larger, said Hervé Baptiste, the Culture Ministry’s chief architect for historical monuments. Thanks to its monument status, the Culture Ministry, Paris City Hall and the Ile-de-France region around Paris contributed 14.5 million euros of the college’s 50-million-euro renovation bill. The rest was financed by contributions from companies and individuals as well as bank loans guaranteed by rents the archdiocese receives from its real estate holdings in the French capital.

Culture Minister Christine Albanel, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe and Ile-de-France Region President Jean-Paul Huchon will join Cardinal Vingt-Trois in inaugurating the college on Thursday.

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Excellent initiative. I’m Catholic and Parisian and I very much look forward to visiting this place of dialogue and respect.

Posted by Luc Bomel | Report as abusive