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 their faith.

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.

   Did you know?
St. Joan of Arc is France's most famous saint. During the Hundred Years' War between England and France, she heard divine voices telling her that France would drive out the English. She dressed like a solider and led the French to victory at Orléans in 1429. She was captured by the English in 1429 and burned at the stake at the age of 19. She was canonized in 1920.