Monuments of the past for the future

By Misch Pautsch Switch to German for original article

What should we do with the churches that are no longer used for worship? Of around 500 church buildings in the country, 21 have been desacralised: they are ceded to the communes after being given over to secular purposes – but which one remains often unclear. Dwindling audiences will probably increasingly move the parishes to desacralise more churches and amplify the question of how to use them.

"What to do with the church buildings?" It is a question that has become inevitable at the latest since the separation of church and state in 2018. Of the 500 church buildings, some are among the oldest buildings ever in Luxembourg, some ostentatious and monumental, others more modest. They are a reflection of the depth of the pockets of the population. Many have sacrificed their last savings in the collection box. Others, better off and more generous, could even have their names immortalised as "donors" in the church windows. With the dwindling numbers of churchgoers and the lack of major patrons, the Catholic Church is now forced to tighten its belt.

Around 150 of the buildings have been managed by the "Kierchefong" since 2018, while the rest belong to the communes. Both involve costs for the diocese. If they own the building, they pay for maintenance, repairs and heating costs. If the building is owned by the commune, the parish has to sign a convention with them to rent it for use. This costs the fund between 1,000 and 2,500 euros per year per building. Compared to current housing costs, this may seem an unbeatable price per square metre, but extrapolated to the 350 buildings, the costs add up to an amount that is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Before the official separation, deficits were absorbed by the congregations, a luxury that no longer exists. Since then, the church has had to fend for itself.

For the number of traditional believers in Luxembourg is dwindling rapidly. According to Statec, 75 percent of the population still considered themselves Catholic in 2008, but by 2021 this figure had dropped to 48 percent. Today, only 24 percent see religion as important, compared to 42 percent in 2008. For many church buildings, this means vacancy: Vacancy.

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