Monday 15 April 2024

France’s clash between church bell ringing and stroppy ‘rural newcomers’

Why you won't be hearing church bells much in France for a few days

The French government aims to pass a law that could help protect the ringing of church bells across the country’s rural regions that are the bastion of French Catholicism. 

The move follows tensions in rural areas following a rise in noise complaints attributed to residents who have moved to the countryside from big cities “bemoaning the way livestock, church bells and other rural sounds impinge on their newly claimed right to pastoral quiet”, reports the Guardian.

A new law aims to stop these néoruraux (rural newcomers) from taking farmers to court over farming activities that were already happening long before they arrived. 

While the legislation’s focus is the noisy domain of agricultural, it could serve as a deterrent to those who might otherwise take issue with noises associated with the religious domain in France.

While opposition MPs have derided the new bill as “hot air”, because it mostly just reorganises existing bits of legislation, what is new, says the Guardian, is the emphasis on what the justice minister, Éric Dupond-Moretti, calls le vivre-ensemble: living together in a respectful way.

The new bill follows farmers across the country “protesting at agro-industrial policies they say are crushing them”. French bishops have spoken out on behalf of the travails of French farmers.

Dale Berning Sawa, the author of the Guardian article, highlights how she grew up in Aix-en-Provence, a town that “likes to think of itself as an extension of Paris”. 

In 2016, she notes, Parisian tourists holidaying in nearby Carry-le-Rouet garnered national attention when they complained about the chant des cigales (cicadas) in summer. 

Berning Sawa says that “it’s easy to trace a link between gentrification-inflated property prices in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and these nonsense complaints, which this new legislation aims to curb”.

This could include dissuading such “nonsense complaints” against the ringing of church bells, a common practise across la France Profonde – that “Deep France” comprised of provincial towns, rural and village life that are underscored by a profound Frenchness, as Gavin Mortimer describes in his Catholic Herald article.

While visiting the tiny village on the edge of the Cévennes national park where her parents live, Berning Sawa notes that at 4 p.m. “the Catholic church’s bells have just rung eight times” and that “despite there being as few as 300 year-round inhabitants, the bells ring the hour twice, just metres from our beds – even through the hours of complete darkness when the street lights are switched off”.

They also ring once on the half-hour too, while “a full-on fanfare, meanwhile, marks the day’s main services at 8am, midday and 7pm”, she notes.

While Berning Sawa says it takes visiting friends a few nights to get used to it, she highlights how “living somewhere and visiting are two different things”, and “I have lived here and loved every aural moment of it, even when I didn’t”.

She explains: “This is countryside clamour that is restorative simply because it’s still alive – and that’s what matters.”

There would arguably be some poetic justice if the new law helped buttress the French tradition of church bell ringing – currently the French government is engaged in pushing through various laws and constitutional amendments that fly in the face of Church teaching and moral practises.

Earlier this year France chose to enshrine abortion as a constitutional right, thereby becoming the only country in the world to use its most fundamental principles of national law to guarantee the right to terminate a pregnancy up to 14 weeks.

This was shortly followed by news that Emmanuel Macron is very much committed to bringing in a new law permitting “assisted dying” (a euphemism that attempts to gloss over the fact it is assisted suicide).

At the same time, and likely influenced by such changes, France is experiencing a continuing (and surprising) Catholic shift against secular progressivism.