Before I leave France, I want to make a comment about religion. While the French pride themselves on being secular, religion is very tied into their history, especially the history of Catholicism. Today a bit over 60% still consider themselves Catholic but what may surprise most is that the second largest religion in France is Islam at about 9%. They have had a huge influx of Muslims in recent years and is very apparent in Paris by the number of women wearing Hijabs covering their hair only. It is against the law for women to wear face coverings. In fact, it is against the law in public schools or government work areas to show any signs of religions, from Burkas to yamakas, to crosses around their necks.
This idea of secularism goes back to the French Revolution. When the new revolutionary government took power, they outlawed religion. The state became the religion. All the beautiful churches and cathedrals across the nation were shut down. It was not until Napoleon took over that religious practice was once again allowed. Yet even Napoleon did not completely support religion. He shut down and destroyed several churches across France and more importantly during his coronation as Emperor he did not allow the Pope to crown him as was tradition. Instead, he took the crown and crowned himself symbolically showing his authority was second to none.
There are so many churches in Paris, I only had the chance to visit a couple of them. The first was Saint-Germain-des-Prés Abby built in 540, 952 years before Columbus discovered America. Like all the churches I visited the insides were nothing short of amazing. The fact that they could build such structures with limited technology blows my mind. The second church is the Montmartre Sace-Ceour Basilica located in Montmartre the tallest hill in Paris. Built in 1887 it is the second most visited church in Paris and is a popular site for pilgrims. Of course, we visited Notre-Dame de Paris. It was heart breaking watching the news footage of the Cathedral burning, but it was nice to see that work is being done to repair it. We could not go inside and probably will not be opened for a few years still, but it is one of the most recognized churches in the world. Finally, as we left Paris towards Germany we stopped at the city of Reims and visited the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims. This is where the kings of France were anointed as such. This is also where the first Christian King of France, Clovis I was baptized. Paris and Reims have a rivalry over which Notre-Dame is larger. Reims made sure it was in their city so the kings would not decide to be anointed in Paris instead.