An anticlerical association is calling for the unbolting of a statue of the Virgin, located at the entrance to La Flotte-en-Ré (Île de Ré), erected after the Second World War in thanksgiving for the return home, healthy and safe, of young prisoners of war.
It all started with an accident, in 2020, of a motorist who, under the effect of some Dionysian potion, involuntarily hit the statue of the Virgin Mary, posted at the entrance to La Flotte-en-Ré. Contrite, the culprit came to confess to the deed spontaneously the next day.
The damaged Marian image has been part of the island's history since 1945, the year it was erected on what was then private land, in gratitude for the return of the young soldiers from captivity, and which gave its name to the road and the nearby bus stop.
In the 1980s, the department of Charente-Maritime expropriated land, including that upon which the statue of the Virgin is located. The latter, located at the southern entrance to the town, was then transformed into a roundabout. The statue was then moved 300 meters to a plot that is now public.
The town hall, proud of its statue, then decided to repair it and put it back in place. Alas! This happened without taking into account the – very selective – excitement of the association La Libre-Pensée [Free-Thinkers], which has been quicker to provoke quarrels with bell towers than with minarets.
The Poitier administrative court was therefore petitioned - France 3 Aquitaine announced on February 6, 2022 - to demand the removal of the statue in the name of “neutrality of the public space in religious matters.”
The case is reminiscent of the offensive that the same association led in the Vendée a few weeks ago, obtaining from justice the unbolting of a statue of the Archangel St. Michael, against the advice of the mayor and its administrators.
“There are statues of the Virgin everywhere in France, we even have a second one on the island, in St. Martin. If the Free Thought Association focused on the statue of the Virgin at La Flotte, it is simply because we wanted to replace it following the accident,” laments Jean-Paul Heraudeau, the mayor of La Flotte-en-Ré.
An online petition was launched by the inhabitants of the island, to denounce a “sterile act of sectarianism”: it collected 2,300 signatures on February 10.
“The world is crazy! She has always watched over the village. Even after suffering different incidents and experiencing a lot of damage, it still stands, so why remove it now?” protests a resident.
Contacted by telephone, Claude Biardeau, the President of the Free Thinkers Association of Charente-Maritime prefers to keep a low profile, awaiting the deliberation, scheduled for March 3.
A Corsican elected official also gave his support to the mayor of Flotte-en-Ré, indicating that he was waiting firmly, in the company of the islanders, for the anti-clericals to dare to appear at l’île de Beauté and try to remove the statue of the Virgin, also enthroned in the center of the village.
We can bet without too much risk that, in the latter case, the Free Thinkers will not venture onto such “explosive” ground.