Niet … no Russian cathedral in central Paris …

  French-Russian relations have often been taut. So it is again today. Yet, today, it has nothing to do with Soviet nuclear missiles aimed at Paris, but it is all about a church. Not just any little inconspicuous church but a vast structure of five golden onion domes which will stretch some 27 meters (90 […]

Russan Cathedral for Paris… beside Eiffel Tower


French-Russian relations have often been taut.

So it is again today.

Yet, today, it has nothing to do with Soviet nuclear missiles aimed at Paris, but it is all about a church.

Not just any little inconspicuous church but a vast structure of five golden onion domes which will stretch some 27 meters (90 feet) into the Parisian sky.

What is however irking the Parisians, and especially Paris’s mayor Bernard Delanoé, is that this Russian Orthodox cathedral, part of a Russian religious center, will cover 4,245 sq. meters (1 acre). And what is more it will be right beside the Eiffel Tower.

This project, decided in 2010 by the then French president Nicholas Sarkozy and the then Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, had been described by Mayor Delanoé earlier this year (2012) as “hodgepodge architecture” and not worthy to be on display near the Eiffel Tower.

A final decision on whether the project will continue will be taken on Thursday, November 29 when the Prefect of Paris, Daniel Canepa, must sign the permit for the construction at a cost of €35.4 million ($45.1 million / £28.5 million) to commence. Two days earlier Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev will be in Paris for a mini-summit with France’s Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, and it is thought that the project will be discussed and that Medvedev will plead for it to be allowed to continue.

Said Delanoé further: “I want to express my very firm opposition to this project conceived by the French and Russian states without the agreement of the city of Paris.”

The Russians had already bought the site in January 2010 for €70 million.  ($89.3 million  / £56.2 million)

I will tell you exactly where the site is: It is on the left bank of the River Seine there where Avenue Rapp runs into Quay Branly. Across the river is Place de l’Alma where on August 31 1997 Princess Diana and her lover Dodi Al-Fayed died when the Mercedes in which they were rear seat passengers crashed in the tunnel underneath the square.

The banks of the Seine have been granted world heritage status by UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Accordingly, any building being constructed on the banks must not clash with traditional Paris architecture. Already in the 1970s a project by the South African government to construct a modern glass-fronted 5-storey embassy beside the American Church on Quay d’Orsay.  Despite opposition, a building permit was issued, and there, today, stands the squat glass box.

Mayor Delanoé wants UNESCO to voice its opposition to the Russian’s project so that “no permission can be given without the endorsement of international experts”.

The Russian Orthodox Church has 165 million followers worldwide which makes it the second largest Christian church in the world after the Roman Catholic Church  with 1.3 billion.

However, as Parisian critics of the Quay Branly project, designed by Spanish architect Manuel Nuñez-Yanowsky, Russian tourists in Paris would not want to be going to church but to the Moulin Rouge.

As it is visiting Russian needing refreshment for their souls already have a Russian Orthodox Cathedral and a Russian Orthodox Church they could attend.

The first, the Cathedral Saint-Alexandre-Nevsky with five golden domes, is at No. 12 Rue Daru in the 8th arrondissement (district).

The Rue Daru Russian Cathedral

The second is the Saint-Serge et de la Dormition de la Mère de Dieu at No. 93, rue de Crimée in the 19th arrondissement.  Full of icons and with an altar screen that dates for the 16th century this small church used to be a protestant temple until the 1920s. It is at the moment being restored but remains open for daily 7 am. And 6 p.m. services and for liturgy on Sundays at 10 a.m.

Saint Serge Russian Church

Furthermore, there is the charming little Russian church in the Russian cemetery at Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois outside Paris of which I had written here.

Charming Russian church in Russian Cemetery outside Paris at Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois

Architect Yanowsky, 69, won an international competition for the creation of the Quay Branly project. He is the head of the Franco-Russian Sade and Arch Group of architects.

Criticism of a Russian Orthodox cathedral in central Paris is also coming from Paris’s Muslim community. For at least 15 years now they have been asking for permission to build a mosque in Paris but each time they have been turned down.

In 2010 the French government estimated that there were between 5-6 million Muslims in France, but only an approximate 2 million were practicing believers.  This estimate was confirmed by an INSEE (National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies) study. Most of the Muslims were from the former French colony of Algeria which had fought a bitter war against the colonialism in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Forty thousand of the Muslims were French nationals who had converted to Islam.

Such statistics mean that Islam is the second largest religion in France after Roman Catholicism.

As for Orthodoxy, there are an estimated 300,000 Orthodox Christians in France. This number is not though only made up of Russians but also of people from Balkan and Near-East countries.

Immediately after the 1917 revolution in Russia France welcomed approximately 400,000 Russians to her territory. This resulted in the construction of several Russian Orthodox churches as indeed Russian cemeteries.

The project …



France and Russia have agreed that this project will not continue in its present form.  

During several hours of negotiations Russia understood that the French find the project undesirable and the Russians will consequently not continue with their request for a building permit.

However, the Russians still wants a cathedral in Paris – somewhere – and when a new project has been decided on, they will again apply for a building permit.

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

6 Responses to “Niet … no Russian cathedral in central Paris …”

  1. 6
    Marilyn Z. Tomlins Says:

    Of these 800 million Protestants only 1 million are French which means only 2% of the French population is Protestant. Well, Alexander, you know why this is so. Having Huguenot ancestors who fled from France, I think it is time that a French president also apologizes for what France had done to her Protestants. Presidents Chirac and Sarkozy apologized to the Jews for France’s complicity in the Holocaust and President Hollande has apologized to Algeria for the killing of Algerians in Paris during the Franco-Algerian war, but not a word to the Protestants.

  2. 5
    Alexander Cartier Says:

    Hello Marilyn,

    “there are about 800 million Protestants worldwide” (

    That would make *us* the second largest Christian church world wide behind the Roman-Catholics.

  3. 4
    Hélène Says:

    J’ignorais tout de ce projet ! Je suis carrément scandalisée que N.Sarkozy ait pu accéder à la demande de Medvedev. Il est ABSOLUMENT inconcevable qu’un tel projet puisse se concrétiser. Comme vous, Marilyn, je pense que si les Orthodoxes Russes sont pris d’une poussée de myticisme au cours de leur visite à Paris, ils ont déjà de quoi se satisfaire avec ce qui existe.
    J’aimerais bien connaître l’objet du “deal” avec Medvedev. le savez-vous ? Je doute qu’il ait pu constituer un simple “cadeau de bienvenue” …
    Il faut lancer une pétition nationale contre ce projet : En 2014 B. Delanoe ne sera plus maire de Paris. Une autre équipe pourrait signer le permis de construire !
    A Nice, un autre scandale du genre s’est produit récemment. A propos de l’église orthodoxe russe que les Russes Blancs réfugiés avaient fait construire sur leur propre terrain, avec leurs propres deniers, après avoir fui le communisme post révolutionnaire et que leurs descendants entretenaient avec dévotion. La Russie de Poutine a réussi à s’approprier ce monument historique.

  4. 3
    Niet no russian cathedral in central paris - The Daily Journalist | The Daily Journalist Says:

    […] Marilyn Z. Tomlins. French-Russian relations have often been taut. So it is again today. Yet, today, it has nothing to do with Soviet […]

  5. 2
    Marilyn Z. Tomlins Says:

    Natalie, I have often been to the Russian cemetery. You will find it very interesting – and beautiful. I plan to go again as soon as Spring is here. I agree with you that Paris does not need another church, no matter whether it is Russian Orthodox or Catholic.

  6. 1
    natalie Says:

    I don’t think Paris needs another church. Why they bought all that land is a mystery. If I visit Paris again, and I hope I do, I just want to visit the Russian Orthodox cemetery where Natasha, the wife of Prince Michael was buried. She had such a sad life and sad end.

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