A French court has ordered a small town to remove a statue of the Virgin Mary, saying the religious display violates the separation of church and state.
The statue is located at a crossroads in La Flotte, a municipality of 2,800 inhabitants on the popular holiday island Ile-de-Re, off France’s Atlantic coast.
The statue was erected by a local family after World War II in gratitude for a father and son having returned from the conflict alive.
Its initial home was a private garden, but the family later donated it to the town which set it up at the crossroads in 1983.
In 2020, it was damaged by a passing car, and the local authorities decided to restore the statue and put it back in the same place, but this time on an elevated platform.
That move triggered a legal complaint by La Libre Pensee 17, an association dedicated to the defence of secularity, on the basis that a French law dating back to 1905 forbids religious monuments in public spaces.
A court in Poitiers followed the argument as did, on appeal, the regional court in Bordeaux, ordering La Flotte to remove the statue, according to a press statement.
Local mayor Jean-Paul Heraudeau called the discussion around the statue “ridiculous” because, he said, it was part of the town’s “historical heritage” and should be considered “more of a memorial than a religious statue”.
But while the court accepted that the authorities had not intended to express any religious preference, it also said that “the Virgin Mary is an important figure in Christian religion,” which gives it “an inherently religious character”.
According to Catholic doctrine going back to the New Testament, God chose Mary to give birth to Jesus while remaining a virgin, through the Holy Spirit.
Catholicism, and several other religions, venerate Mary as a central figure in their faith, and she has been the subject of countless works of art over the centuries.
La Flotte has six months to remove the statue, the court said.