How Do You Solve a Problem Like Old Churches?

Old buildings are an ongoing issue, we may agree. Repurpose, demolish, subdivide, load onto a tractor trailer and move them, you can and you must do things with old construction if you want a city or town or village to continue to be useful to modern residents.

But old churches are -hard-. They tend to be inconveniently large. Height of ceiling makes HVAC and other desirable amenities difficult, sometimes impossible, to install. Altering stone walls calls for jackhammers and heavy equipment, and steeples must be expensively maintained, otherwise they fall down and damage nearby houses and cars.

A smaller, sturdily-built church building in a decent neighborhood can be transformed into housing. If you have the money, the main sanctuary can certainly be divided up into living, kitchen, dining room and so forth. A ruinous church building on a useable property is often deconsecrated and demolished to be replaced by something modern and mundane.

But suppose the church is not small. Suppose you have to wrestle with irritating factors like historical significance, or the way the city square needs its focal point. Then you find yourself doing things like this. In the picture at the top of this post is the Église Sainte-Marie. at one end of the Place de la Liberté in the French town of Sarlat. It used to be the parochial church, and was built in 1803.

France has a particularly heavy load to tote here. So very many churches are of vital cultural significance, erected by Richard Lion-heart or sacked by the Vikings back when the calendar only had three digits. You can’t just convert them into a shopping mall. And yet, because it is an atheist country, most of the churches can’t be supported by the congregation. It’s just impossible. So the state steps in, keeping up the roofs, ensuring the steeples are stable, and the polity has to step up too. Get that huge pile in the center of town to make some money!

So this is a great example. You can see the original church portal, fitted with those grand doors, through which, in the day, the worshippers entered. Now, however, the interior has been converted into a small but neat food market, where fruit, cheese, and meat is sold every day. A sad comedown, you think? Better than being bulldozed and having a Costco erected on the site. What else can you do with a honking big ecclesiastical structure? We’ll think more about it next time.

 

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.

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