Although more than 80% of French citizens consider
themselves Catholic, only 14% attend church regularly. Many French
people consider their religion a private matter and prefer to worship
outside the institutional setting of the Catholic church. Some form
prayer groups; others engage in social service as an expression of
France has a rich Christian heritage, and its religious monuments attract both Catholics and non-Catholics from around the world. Huge Gothic cathedrals were built in the Middle Ages in places such as Chartres, Amiens and Paris. Many cathedrals are called Notre-Dame, which means "Our Lady" (the Virgin Mary). In the Middle Ages, important religious orders were founded, such as the Cistercians, founded by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). Although many monasteries were destroyed during the Napoleonic era, France still has many thriving abbeys, monasteries and convents. The monks and nuns in some of these orders are renowned for their skills in work such as fine printing and bookbinding or ceramics. Many welcome guests for spiritual retreats-periods of quiet, prayer and Bible study.
France has several important pilgrimage sites.
At Lisieux, a huge church was built to honour Ste. Thérèse,
known as the Little Flower. She was a 19th-century nun who wrote a book
called The Story of a Soul about her life and faith. She died
when she was only 22, but her book influenced many people. She was
canonized (declared a saint by the Vatican) in 1925. The city of Lourdes
is another famous pilgrimage site. In 1858, a peasant girl named
Bernadette Soubirous experienced 18 visions of the Virgin Mary in a
cave near Lourdes. Among other things, the Virgin Mary told Bernadette
about the location of a spring of water nearby. Since then, millions
of pilgrims have travelled to Lourdes and gathered the water from the
spring. The water is believed to have curative powers. St. Bernadette
was canonized in 1933.
The second largest religious group in France are the Muslims; most Muslims are African immigrants. There are also small Protestant and Jewish communities.