After Catholic fundamentalists prevented Swedish musician Anna von Hausswolff from performing in a church in Nantes on Tuesday, the Paris church Saint-Eustache has cancelled her planned 9 December concert, citing concerns over security.
On Tuesday, a group described by Nantes’ deputy mayor, Bassem Asseh, as “intolerant radicals” blocked the entrance to the church Notre-Dame de Bon-Port ahead of von Hausswolff’s show, accusing her of making “satanist” music, despite the show being organised in accordance with the Nantes diocese.
The protesters sang: “Saint Mary, mother of God, pray for us poor sinners.”
Von Hausswolff’s primary instrument is the pipe organ, largely found in places of worship. British music publication the Quietus described the Swedish Grammy nominee’s output as exploring “unmapped territory where post-rock, prog, doom metal, modern classical and high church music all coexist in uneasy alliance”. Her lyrics have touched on gothic themes.
“Yesterday night the far-right Catholic integralism won over art, but not over love,” Von Hausswolff wrote on Instagram, alongside a photograph of herself sitting in the empty church “while listening to about 50-100 integralists chanting and screaming outside the church’s doors, blocking the way for almost 400 people”.
She described it as a “scary, tense and sad situation” and that “there was nothing for us to do but cancel – we had too little security”. She said she and the church were “working together and not against each other” and praised her fans for waiting “peacefully and patiently”. “I loved that you remembered these things will never be solved by violence.”
When contacted by the Guardian, she declined to comment further on the matter.
Eli Commins, director of le lieu unique, the cultural centre that promoted the Nantes show, said in a statement that the forced cancellation was unacceptable and “an attack on the freedom of creativity and expression”.
“At 21.10, after many unsuccessful attempts to find a favourable outcome, we had to take the decision, in agreement with the artist, to not open the doors in order to protect the security of everyone present.”
Commins said le lieu unique strongly refuted “unfounded accusations of desecration” that had been levied at Von Hausswolff. He added to newspaper Ouest-France: “There is no religious inspiration, no violence! She just plays the organ, and organs are found in churches. It’s post-metal-influenced music.”
Aymeric Seassau, deputy for culture to the mayor of Nantes, expressed solidarity with le lieu unique and Von Hausswolff, and said the incident strengthened “the idea that in the face of obscurantism, we need the light of the arts and culture more than ever. Nantes will remain a city open to all cultures and artistic styles.”
Asseh said: “This is not our idea of a vision of society founded on dialogue and cultural openness.”
Yves Trocheris, curate of Saint-Eustache in Paris, told the Guardian he had made the “difficult and serious decision to cancel Von Hausswolff’s 9 December concert “to ensure that public order was maintained at the gates of the church”.
In a second statement, he said he had received many hostile messages from the public that had prompted him to cancel the event, also taking into consideration the nightly meal that church organisation la Soupe offers to those without means directly outside the entrance.
He added: “Let’s make something clear: Anna von Hausswolff is not satanist. Her work derives from her own imaginary artistic universe. She explores the world of the organ and plays the instrument in a singular fashion. Her music defends contemporary issues such as those facing women and the plight of the climate.”
Trocheris said Saint-Eustache would remain a place open to artistic creation. “This intention is founded on the fact that the gospel itself commands love and condemns hate.”
Von Hausswolff posted on Instagram that her team was looking for a new venue for her Paris date.
The cancelled shows come towards the end of a tour promoting Von Hausswolff’s 2020 album, the instrumental piece All Thoughts Fly, which was made up of more than 20 dates, including performances in European churches and cathedrals, among them London’s Union Chapel.
Von Hausswolff said that thousands of people had seen this tour, “and there has been nothing but love and affection in the air, both from my audience and from the church. When different people try to overcome differences and barriers, that’s when true healing begins,” she wrote.