For over a thousand years France has been one of the Catholic countries. From the time of Charlemagne (king of the Franks and the Holy Roman Emperor 742-814) until the emergence of Protestantism in the sixteenth century, France was the only country where Catholicism was the mainstream form of Christianity.
After the French Revolution in 1798, religion in France was brought under state control. But in 1801, Napoleon signed a Concordat with the Vatican, which restored much of the church’s former status.
In 1905 the landmark law was passed, establishing the Separation of the State and the Church. Since then, while Catholicism has remained the predominant religion in France, individuals have received the right to practice any religion they wish.
Nowadays in France Catholicism exists alongside with Protestantism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and others. The vast majority of the French consider themselves to be Catholics.
In the state education sector, religion is frequently considered taboo subject. While there are no religious education classes in French state schools, and no acts of worship, national programs now state the requirement to make pupils aware of the religious aspects of French history art and culture.
Receiving religious education
For parents who want their children to receive religious education there are numbers of private schools which run by the Catholic Church. About 18% of France’s school children are in “confessional” schools, most of them Catholic. At high school level almost a quarter of students are in private schools, and Catholic high schools still tend to be over-represented among the most successful high-schools in France.
The Catholic tradition has fundamentally marked French culture. The finest monuments of medieval France that reflecting Catholicism in France are cathedrals. The finest artists and craftsmen of their day were hired to paint frescoes and altarpieces, create wonderful stained glass.
Most medieval French music was written for and performed in churches, and much literature was a celebration of Christian faith. The great work of literature in the French language was the Chanson de Roland, the epic of a heroic fight of Christians against the Sarrasins.