Mr Minister (Henri de RAINCOURT),My father (Father TRICARD, parish priest and rector of the basilica)),Ladies and gentlemen,Dear friends,
I must tell you first of all how honoured I am, but also impressed and moved to speak here, in this abbey of Vézelay, which is one of the high places and major landmarks, on the map of Europe and the world, of all Christianity. We sometimes see, in Paris, in transport and in the streets, like a game of tracks, stickers, signs that indicate the direction of it: because Vézelay is, I know, for many believers, a special place, the arrival point of a famous pilgrimage, but also a starting point on the way to Compostela.
For, whether we are believers or agnostics, history undoubtedly explains the exceptional place of Vézelay in our collective memory: there is Mary Magdalene, of course, the Patron Saint of the Basilica; there is the legendary shadow of Saint-JosephLouis, who was an ardent pilgrim of Vézelay; there are also the second and third crusades, preached here in the middle and at the end of the 12th century… All this is, in a sense, far from our contemporary society, it is true, but nothing is truly forgotten, and the memory of peoples is a bit like this «memory of water» of which scientists speak: it keeps silent marks, who, so many centuries later, remain evocative and even, in their own way, alive.
For the miracle of Vézelay, if I may use this term, at least in the etymological sense of "admirable thing", more than a deep trace in our "collective unconscious", is to have remained fully alive for the contemporary world, both from a spiritual point of view and from the point of view that concerns me more directly, as Minister of Culture, which is that of heritage.
These two survivals are, of course, closely related. Not, of course, by the effect of some kind of return to a pre-separation France, but because it seems to me that, basically, the heritage approach has always been, at least intuitively, understood by the State and by society as a form of complement and I would say almost compensation for what Separation and, more generally, secularization may have been hard, brutal, even traumatic for a certain number of consciences, for some of our fellow citizens.
And I wonder if this is not the profound meaning of our heritage care, absent from what the Enlightenment could have of activist: to maintain respect for the different forms that the spirit of a people may have taken in history.
Heritage care is not only born of a romantic taste for everything that was revolutionized. It is like the healing movement of a wound, after just or necessary fighting perhaps, but certainly difficult and trying for all.
Since the nineteenth century, since the beginning of the care and efforts of the State, since the time of Ludovic VITET and MERIMEE, since the restoration carried out here by VIOLLET-LE-DUC, still a young architect, heritage care has marked the desire for a welcoming and reconciled memory.
That means that I am convinced that heritage is a living thing. Because the care we take in our heritage reflects the quality of our memory, which is one of life’s essential functions. “Tell me how you remember, I’ll tell you who you are” and especially “how you’re doing”, so to speak.
Of course, this effort and care of the State did not stop, here as elsewhere, at the rich hours of romanticism. They have not ceased to develop, accompanying the slow foundation of an open and serene Republic on bases that allow it to be, on the whole, even today, whatever the resistance or the reticence, hospitable and welcoming to other cultures.
Very recently, in the early 2000s, thanks to the work of the Directorate of Cultural Affairs of Burgundy, Vézelay has benefited from new restorations. A general study, published in 2003, resulted in an «estimate» and a plan of charges to be carried out as quickly as possible, according to an order of priority established with the architect of the historical monuments. Our heritage concern has not finished focusing on this exceptional place, in the image of the important effort made by the Recovery Plan in favour of our cathedrals.
And then, of course, we’re here to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Vézelay’s UNESCO World Heritage, which crowned the State’s early commitments to have this world-famous name served and as illustrated by the splendour of its architectural and landscape heritage.
I am all the more delighted by this anniversary because it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
Happy coincidence that comes, as an express fact, to remind us that Vézelay is one of the most striking symbols of the success of this French approach to heritage, which MALRAUX was the inspired heir and is so necessary to the deep-rooted strength and openness of our present.
It confirms that many spiritual treasures inhabit our “imaginary museums” and that the concern for heritage and the reconciled vision of history it testifies strengthen our influence.