Clergy proud of people's cathedral

Paris - The first new cathedral to be built in France since the separation of church and state in 1905 welcomed the faithful to its inaugural Mass this week, writes Mary Dejevsky.

The striking red-brick building, in the otherwise faceless new town of Evry, which is half an hour's drive south of Paris, cost 67m francs (£8.9m) and has been paid for almost entirely by public donations.

From outside, the building looks like a large, squat tower. The sloping roof hastrees planted on it, intended to symbolise the Apostles and to reflect the changing seasons, but described disrespectfully by Le Monde newspaper as resembling a monk's tonsure.

The building, which is to be called the Cathedral of the Resurrection, was designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta, and is dedicated to St Corbinian, an eighth-century hermit from nearby Chartres, who became the first bishop of Munich.

The church authorities make a point of stressing that the state has not subsidised the building in any way.

Nearly Fr35m, more than half the cost, came from 180,000 donors. The bishop said he had found it surprising that donations had been so forthcoming in an age which was so secular and when money was so scarce. He had touching stories to tell: couples getting married asked for donations to be made to the cathedral fund in lieu of wedding gifts; children sent their pocket money; and there was a Russian who sent some dollar bills in an envelope, with a note saying: "This is the first proof of our freedom, that I can send money abroad.''

The building is now fully paid for. But a further Fr10m is being solicited, to pay for stained glass for the large window behind the altar and other ornaments. At present the only ornaments are a 19th-century crucifix, an 18th-century wooden statue of the Virgin (both of which were found in Paris antique shops and, in the case of the crucifix, donated when the destination was made known) and a tapestry showing scenes from the life of St Corbinian, which has been loaned.

Speaking yesterday behind the cathedral's white marble altar, bathed in sunlight streaming through the glass roof, the Bishop of Evry, Mgr Guy Herbulot, described the euphoria and gratitude that he felt during the first Mass, which he said on Tuesday evening for 1,500 parishioners.

The cathedral, which from now on will hold regular services, including those for Easter, stands at the centre of what is intended to be a new city centre for the otherwise unremittingly charmless Evry.

The town hall is already functioning, as are the first cafes and shops and the community hall beside the cathedral. A cathedral closeremains to be built to complete the arrangement.

Looking out from the cathedral square, however, the vistas are dominated in one direction by a vast supermarket and carpark, in another by advertising hoardings concealing wasteland and in the third by a characterless concrete conglomeration already greyed with age.

It is not a promising situation but, as one of the cathedral's priests said: "Think back to the Middle Ages, when our present ageing cities were new and the great cathedrals were built as the focus of the new communities.''

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