Paris is home to some of the most architecturally and artistically stunning, as well as historically significant, churches in the world. Perhaps the best-known example is Notre Dame. Aesthetically beautiful inside and out, the church attracts over 30,000 visitors on average every day. Many are Catholic, and many aren’t.
I went yesterday while a mass was taking place. People clamored as close to the alter as they could get to take pictures and videos. Most did not attend the mass but went around the church’s periphery, took photographs, and stopped by the gift shop before leaving.
Maintaining a church like Notre Dame can’t be cheap. The building itself is massive; many priests serve there; there’s artwork that needs restoring, instruments that need repairing, etc. etc. etc. In that sense, it’s good that there are so many visitors with so much cash. Notre Dame is always receiving donations from people who want to light candles or buy rosaries, or from those who just want to donate.
Still, the Catholic in me can’t help but question whether it’s right for this sort of commercialism or materialism to take place inside a church. Does it bother the priests, for instance, that while their leading mass people are all around filming, not so they can remember the mass, but so they can prove to their friends that they were at Notre Dame? Does it bother faithful church-goers that one of oldest Catholic churches in the world contains a gift shop? What would the original architects say if they knew their church was used less as a church and more as a tourist attraction?
I don’t mean to suggest that tourists are doing something wrong. There are many non-religious reasons to visit Notre Dame. I only wonder whether it is possible for religion and commercialism to be combined without hindering religion.