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France gifts 5 Celtic crosses to Ireland

Interview with S.O.S Calvaries

Irish Nuntii



This year, S.O.S Calvaires is coming to Ireland between the 5th and the 13th of May, to erect five celtic crosses.

S.O.S Calvaires are a French organisation which "aims to bring together all those interested in safeguarding the Calvaries, oratories and chapels that make up our heritage, to restore and maintain them." Calvaries is a French word for crucifixes. Last year they completed over 100 projects in France. One notable project in July of last year included the restoration of the highest wooden cross in France (12 meters high!). This cross, located in Persac in the Vienne, was erected for the first time in 1875. 800 people gathered on the day of the installation to join in the prayer which is the purpose of the projects, to incite people to pray. S.O.S Calvaires recently announced their decision to travel to Ireland this coming May to erect five Celtic wooden crosses, so Irish Nuntii reached out to find out more about their upcoming Irish project and to ask them questions about their organisation. The questions and answers follow below -





1. How did the project start and why was it dedicated specifically to calvaries?

At first, some old people of Le Lion d’Angers (not far from Angers, France), created a

small association just for their village and some others around in 1987, to protect and to

restore their little Christian heritage. It was dedicated to calvaries and little chapels. But

it was an old organization directed by old people, so it was active at the beginning and

then, it declined. In 2014, it has been taken over by a group of young men of 25-30 y.o

and it became SOS Calvaries. They put a new impetus in it and from there, the association

never stopped growing.


2. Do calvaries have a special significance in France or are they a minority heritage

manifestation?

In France, calvaries were erected from the Middle-Age to the middle of the twentieth

century. In the Middle-Age, they were built to protect people on the roads. But most of

them were destroyed during the French Revolution in the main time of the Christian

mentality and Faith. So, during the 19 th century, the history said that the catholic Church

decided to re-evangelize the French countryside, by sending missionary priests. After

they stayed a while in a village, they usually erected a cross for the people to continue to

pray and to practice their faith. So the style of the calvaries depends of the region where

they were built. So to answer your question, yes the calvaries have a special significance

and history in France. We can say that, without them and without this missionary work

in the 19 th century, most of the people in France would have loose their faith. It would

have changed the History of the country, for sure! We don’t know how much calvaries we

have in France, but all the French regions have some. It’s quite rare to see a French

village without a cross or a statue. So I won’t say that it is a minority heritage

manifestation.


3. What are the different steps in the restoration process of calvaries? (How do you

know about the calvaries that need to be restored, who can be part of the

restoration team and how do you prepare them for the work, and if monitor these

sites afterwards).

First, we know about the calvaries that need to be restored thanks to people who contact

us on social media, or our antennas, or directly by some mayors. After this first

information, we search for the owner and with his authorization, we can begin the work

of rebuilding. The restoration of a calvary goes from cleaning to completely changing a

cross.

Everybody can be part of the restoration team. It’s really open to everybody. After the

restoration, the association doesn't really monitor them, but some people of the villages

take care of the calvaries, now that they are brand new. Because it’s now part of their life,

their village, their heritage. The work on a calvary made people re-discover it. And we

are developing a branch of people from the association who come to put flowers and

take care.


4. Is it challenging to make a project like this economically sustainable? How did you

manage to grow and expand in France?

We are an association, so to work we need money, and we receive it by donations from

all the people in France or abroad who know our work and who can financially support

it.

But we search for more donations and bigger funds in fact, to continue to grow and to be

legitimate in our work and our actions. And there is so much work to do…

We began to be known more and more since… about two years ago, because of a video

we did on a beautiful restoration. We posted it on YouTube and it became kind of viral.

From there, a lot of people contact SOS Calvaries to do the same actions and restorations

of their heritage in their region.

Until then, there were only two employees of SOS Calvaries, a carpenter to make the new

wooden crosses, and a secretary. The rest of the staff and the managers (we can say), like

the president etc. were just volunteers. That’s why last September, the association

employed two more people. A CEO to manage the direction and expansion of the

organization, and a communication manager that I am.


5. There is always a relationship between the locals and their heritage

and it is important to respect it. How do you involve and work with local communities?

Of course, we work together with the local communities. However, it’s quite rare to have

a special religious community around, but we never work in secret, you know what I

mean! When we work on a calvary, the inhabitants of the village always know what we

are doing. Some don't care, but some are interested in our actions. They are often

impressed because it’s mainly young people who restore and work for the heritage.

Before it was an old one, now it’s the youth. And actually, they are grateful.

For example, when we need advice or know-how, or material we just ask around.

And of course, we are always looking for the history of the calvaries, and because it’s

quite rare to have archives, we ask and talk to the neighbors around. It happens quite

often that they know a lot about the calvaries, especially the old one. Sometimes, it was

their father or grandfather who built this calvary, so they can tell this story. It can be

quite moving for us but also for them. They usually don’t have the opportunity to speak

about it.


6. You have recently launched an app which users can use to upload calvaries at risk

of falling into disrepair. Tell us more details about it.

Indeed, we just launched an app to list all the calvaries, but also the statues of the

Blessed Virgin or the Sacred Hearts in France. It’s not only this heritage in ruins but also

the one in good condition. The goal is to make an inventory of all this (calvaries, statues

and so on) in order to (at the end) to keep an account as exact as possible of all this small

French Christian heritage, as we call it. This work has never been done as a national

thing, so it’s a big work and for now we are the only one in France to do it.

So, when you arrive on the app, you can see the map of France with all the calvaries

already registered. Now, a bit more than 9 000. You can see the exact position of the

calvary, some pictures, the material of it and its state (good, medium or bad). You

register all these details when you add a calvary on the app. It will help the association to

see which calvary needs more help than another and help to see which one will

“disappear”, because unfortunately, it happens sometimes. Our mission is to protect

them as part of our history and of our country and lives!


7. Lastly, how can volunteers, professionals and people in general, join S.O.S

Calvaries or contribute to your mission?

Everybody can come and help to restore the calvaries. To begin, you just have to get out

of your house. Then you can contact the branch manager of your region and tell him that

you are ready to help. As easy as that. We have now 51 antennas everywhere in France.

The goal is to have at least one by department.

To be part of the restoration team, you don’t need special skills or whatever. Our

volunteers are farmers, artisans, lawyers, doctors, students, fathers, mothers, builders,

businessmen, computer scientists and so on…

You see, nobody needs particular skills to help and clean our heritage. It is for all

goodwill! We have children coming with their parents or siblings, we have 30yo people

and we have 80yo people. It’s a family thing!

To conclude, I will say that we need arms to help physically, we need money to help

financially, and we need prayers to be blessed. As simple as that! And of course, we need

people who love their country and history!


S.O.S Calvaires will arrive in Ireland and erect the first cross on the 6th of May in Abbeyknockmoy, Co.Galway and finish with the 5th cross on the 12th of May in Ardee, Co Louth. See details below, exact times will be announced in coming days, please follow their social media pages linked below or follow ours to keep up to date with exact times -


6th May - at Moyne House, Abbeyknockmoy, Co. Galway


7th May - Kylemore Abbey, Co. Galway


9th May - Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo


10th May - at Holy Cross Abbey, Newry


12th May - Ardee, Co Louth