• France's news in English
Russia opens new cathedral in Paris, but without Putin
All photos: AFP

Russia opens new cathedral in Paris, but without Putin

AFP · 19 Oct 2016, 08:27

Published: 19 Oct 2016 08:27 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Putin last week pulled out of a trip to open the complex, which includes a spiritual centre and school as well as the cathedral, after fierce criticism from France of his bombing campaign in Syria.

The buildings, at a prime location by the river in central Paris, have raised eyebrows, with the five giant golden domes of the cathedral clearly visible in the historic heart of the City of Lights.

The project also reportedly sparked concerns from France's intelligence agencies because of its proximity to nearby government buildings, including the foreign ministry just a short walk along the Seine.

Putin has given strong financial and political backing to the project which has cost more than 100 million euros. Moscow purchased the land in 2010 from the French state under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.

"You could link this project to pastoral needs, but it also likely a desire by Russia to open a cultural and religious showpiece in Paris beyond its embassy," writer and Orthodox priest Christophe Levalois told AFP.

Putin has developed close bonds with the powerful Russian Orthodox church whose patriarch Kirill has backed the Kremlin leader personally and on policies such as his military intervention in Syria.

Kirill is set to visit Paris on December 4 for the consecration of the Saint-Trinite cathedral, whose interior will be fully completed in 2017.

In Putin's absence, the complex will be opened Wednesday by Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.

'Strange ambiguity'

But the growing Orthodox community in France, swelled by immigration from Russia as well as the Middle East and the Balkans, is not united behind the Kremlin's construction.

Paris already has an Orthodox cathedral, the Saint Alexandre Nevsky built by the Russian community in 1861, but it is aligned with a different branch of Orthodoxy based in Istanbul -- rather than Moscow which is seen as more politicised.

Antoine Arjakovsky, a historian linked to Saint Alexandre Nevsky, stressed the "strange and problematic ambiguity" of the project, financed by a theoretically secular Russian state, which "mixes religion and politics a stone's throw from the Elysee (presidential palace) and the foreign ministry."

Story continues below…

As well as opening at a difficult time in Franco-Russian relations, it is also awkward for French President Francois Hollande amid a feverish national debate in France about the role of religion in public life after a string of attacks by Islamic extremists.

Hollande was quoted in a book last week as saying that there was a "problem with Islam" in France because it required holy sites and recognition.

"It's not Islam that poses a problem in the sense of its being a religion that is dangerous in itself, but because it wants to assert itself as a religion in the republic," he is quoted as saying in "Un president ne devrait pas dire ca" ("A president shouldn't say this").

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Calais migrants given mixed reception in French towns
Photo: AFP

Some in France have shown solidarity with their new guests, while others have made it clear they are not welcome.

Lonely Planet says Bordeaux is world's best city to visit
The fantastic new Bordeaux wine museum. Photo: AFP

After The Local France, the Lonely Planet has followed suit by urging everyone to head to Bordeaux in 2017.

Jungle shacks set ablaze and torn down as camp razed
All photos: AFP

IN PICTURES: The razing of the Jungle has finally begun.

Frenchwoman finds WW1 grenade among her spuds
Photo: AFP

It could have been a very explosive family dinner.

Refugee crisis
What rights to a future in France for Calais migrants?
Photo: AFP

What does the future hold for the migrants of the Jungle? Can they work or claim social benefits or travel freely inside Europe?

Pampers nappies 'contain carcinogenics': French study
Photo: Robert Valencia/Flick

The substances in the nappies are meant to prevent skin irritation but are cancerous, the study concludes.

France to scrap special prison wings for dangerous jihadists
Photo: AFP

The experiment has been ditched.

Myth busting: Half of French adults are now overweight
A model at the Pulp Fiction fashion show in Paris that represents society's diverse spectrum . Photo: AFP

Hold on, aren't the French all meant to be finely toned specimens with not an ounce of fat on them?

France poised to send bulldozers into Calais Jungle
Photo: AFP

As hundreds of migrants leave, the bulldozers are set to tear down the sprawling Calais shanty town on Tuesday.

UK to spend €40 million on securing Calais border
Photo: AFP

Britain spending big on security in Calais.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available