Crumbling French churches spark unholy row

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The village church and its steeple have dominated the skyline of rural France for centuries, surviving feuding warlords, foreign invasion and the upheavals of the French Revolution.

But as local mayors look to the future, some are thinking the unthinkable and threatening to demolish the crumbling churches they have to fund, prompting cries of sacrilege from a heritage lobby that says the French way of life is under attack.

Hundreds of 19th-century edifices face the wrecker's ball or wilful neglect, a crisis that reflects deeper shifts in society including the exodus from rural areas and falling church attendance, as well as spiralling upkeep costs.

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