Before There Was Notre Dame

Since the beginning of 2019, France has seen a torrent of attacks which have included arson, vandalism, and desecration of a number of its historic Catholic churches.

The defacers have torn down crosses, knocked down tabernacles, smashed statues, and have destroyed the Eucharist, igniting fears of a rise in widespread anti-Catholic sentiment across the country.

On Sunday the 17th of March, just following midday mass, the historic Church of St. Sulpice in Paris was set ablaze, Le Parisien reported. Although nobody was injured, French authorities are currently still looking into the attack, which firefighters have attributed to arson.

First constructed in the 17th century, the Church of St. Sulpice is home to three paintings done by Eugene Delacroix, a French Romanic artist. The church was used in the movie adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

According to the Catholic publication La Croix International, just last month, in north-central France at the St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Houilles, a statue of the Virgin Mary was found smashed, and the churches altar cross had been hurled onto the ground.

In the same month, an altar cloth was burned and statues of saints and crosses were all smashed at Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur, in south-central France. Following the vandalism, the city’s Mayor, Bernard Canyon, in a public statement said, “God will forgive. Not me.”

In Nimes, a southern city located near the Spanish border, vandals smeared a cross with human excrement and looted the altar of the church of Notre-Dame des Enfants (Our Lady of the Children).

Consecrated hosts used in communion ceremonies, which are believed by Catholics to be the body of Jesus Crist, were found sprinkled among the trash outside of the church building.

Bishop Robert Wattebled of Nimes, in a statement given to the press, said, “This greatly affects our diocesan community. The sign of the cross and the Blessed Sacrament have been the subject of serious injurious actions.”

“This act of profanation hurts us all in our deepest convictions,” he added.

According to the leading Catholic magazine, The Tablet, since February alone, there has been a record high 47 documented attacks on church and religious sites.

The Observatory of Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe, which is based in Vienna, reported a 25 percent increase in attacks on Catholic churches in the first two months of 2019, compared to the same time period last year.