After the death of Abbé Pierre in 2007, many people came spontaneously to Esteville (30km north of Rouen) to pay their respects at his graveside and visit the place where he lived. The Emmaus movement and Abbé Pierre’s family wanted to set up a museographical and cultural centre that was both efficient and sustainable. Abbé Pierre chose to be buried in the cemetery in Esteville next to the Emmaus companions, the first of whom, Georges Legay, was buried in 1966. Abbé Pierre lived in this house intermittently between 1964 and 2007, and full time in the 1990s. After his death, his room and chapel were left how he left them, leaving a unique and moving testimony to his personality and commitments.
A museographical, learning and events centre, the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre welcomes visitors every day of the year from 10am – 6pm.
The visitors cross a leafy and flower-filled park in which huge street-art murals display the work of eight contemporary artists who have interpreted Abbé Pierre and the Emmaus movements’ memory and message. Afterwards, they can discover the place of remembrance and museographical space, covering eight rooms. The place of remembrance exhibits a wealth of texts, photos and videos illustrating, in a simple and modern way, the life and works of a man who followed a unique path: monk, resistance fighter, parliamentarian, activist for peace, creator of communities, social innovator, builder of houses, initiator of collective commitments, media personality, and inspiration behind laws and public policy that improved the daily lives of the most excluded members of society. Seeing the chapel and Abbé Pierre’s room are highlights of the visit.
The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre focuses on working with young people by offering a learning programme, of which several hundred schoolchildren benefit every year. Pupils aged eight to twenty visit the place of remembrance with the help of an illustrated guide. In addition, they spend an hour with an education officer who tells them about forms of poverty and the solidarity-based solutions that they can implement themselves.
The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre runs seven events every year: two commemorations, two exhibitions and three solidarity sales.
The summer sale, book fair and Christmas sale aim to give pride of place to cultural and activist discovery. Customers are encouraged to visit the centre and enjoy the events run on those days.
The exhibitions run for the three months of spring and three months of autumn. ‘Le Génie des modestes’ has been running since 2013. This annual artistic exhibition includes several hundred artistic works catalogued into types: ‘outsider art and singular art’. The exhibition tries to demonstrate through art that everyday people can do amazing things. Since 2012, every autumn the exhibition has focused on image, Abbé Pierre and Emmaus’s archives and covers current affairs: the various editions have included comic strips, caricatures and press illustrations, photography and street art.
The commemorations for the birth and death of Abbé Pierre are meant to be lively events focused on the future. Every 22 January, there is a march to the cemetery, where the keys to housing constructed by an Emmaus group are placed on Abbé Pierre’s grave – a symbolic gesture that proves the struggle goes on. Afterwards, a conference is held on topical events. Since 2014, on the first Sunday after 5 August, the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre organises a festival for children. Children and adults spend the day playing in the park and finding out about Abbé Pierre and the Emmaus movement by using materials adapted to their age.
The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre has developed many services for visitors: themed bookshop, meeting room, café-bar, restaurant, accommodation. A cultural and learning centre, in 2013 and 2014 the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre opened a bookshop (second-hand books) and a second-hand toyshop.
One retired companion who lives at the centre, companions from other communities who occasionally take part in the centre’s events, six members of staff and fifty volunteers.
Solidarity organisations: as part of its solidarity book fair and involvement in the organisation of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty in Rouen, the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre works with Secours catholique, Secours populaire, ATD-Quart-Monde, CCFD-Terre solidaire, Amnesty International, Livres sans frontière and Echanges France-Bénin.
Emmaus groups: 15 to 20 Emmaus groups visit the centre each year. Some Emmaus groups support the centre at its big sale or supply the book and toy shops. The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre is coordinated by Emmaus International, Emmaus France, Emmaus Solidarité, the Abbé Pierre Foundation and Abbé Pierre's family.
Tourism: the centre collaborates with local tourist offices, local authorities’ organisations for tourism development, and as part of a regional federation. We also have partnerships with neighbouring tourist sites.
Culture: Le Génie des modestes is organised in partnership with a Paris-based gallery, La Halle Saint Pierre, and the autumn exhibition is included in the wider programme of the Normandie comic book festival (town of Darnétal). Abbé Pierre’s house possesses the Maison des Illustres certification, issued by the French Ministry of Culture. The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre receives artists and writers for private viewings and conferences.
Learning: The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre welcomes school children under partnerships with schools and various national education services. The centre’s learning programme is approved by the Rouen local education authority.
The house was given to Abbé Pierre and his friends in 1964.
Abbé Pierre set up multipurpose hub: community of builders, a centre for learning, meeting and rest, and a secretariat to liaise with the world’s Emmaus groups.
Later, a retirement home for companions operated between 1973 and 1999.
In 1999, a new project was born with the creation of a housing centre for rough sleepers from Paris. Today, the rooms are in a poor state, and there is no longer a housing centre, whilst plans are being made for major building work.
The building work on the centre began in late 2010 and took fourteen months. The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre was inaugurated on 22 January 2012, for the centenary of Abbé Pierre’s birth.
Gradually, activities and events began to be developed.
The learning programme was improved and new materials were created.
The seven events were developed one by one, based on their conceptional relevance, the target audiences, the spaces and resources.
New services and outbuildings were also brought into being: catering, visitor accommodation, second-hand shops etc.
The aim is to meet visitors’ needs, whilst illustrating the Emmaus movement’s many dimensions and increasing the site’s attractiveness and self-financing.
The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre is still in the early stages of its development. Many people haven’t yet heard of it. Located in the countryside and possessing limited means, it is gradually raising its profile. The growth prospects in terms of visitor numbers are therefore good.
It endeavours to bring its intangible heritage up to date through contemporary creation (street art, outsider art, etc.), conferences and speakers working in the field of solidarity today and exhibitions and commemorations presenting the Emmaus movement’s current activities. The centre is working on widening its aims through a popular education initiative and cultural mediation targeting young people: cultural action residencies, learning booklets, children’s festival, etc.
The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre endeavours to offer services and content that make it a space for reflection, revitalisation, and work for the Emmaus movement and voluntary organisations: meetings, social stays and training, etc.
Each year around 7200 people visit the centre. In addition to this figure, there are people who take part in the centre’s events (private viewings, conferences, sales and festivals) but who do not visit the museum. Today the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre welcomes more than 10,000 people a year.
The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre gives people an opportunity to find out about Abbé Pierre and the Emmaus movement, which are still largely unknown. Visitors are always surprised by the scale of actions past and present. They often say: “We didn’t know Emmaus was so important, or that Abbé Pierre managed to do all of that”.
On account of school visits, the number of young visitors has increased each year (it has doubled since 2012).
A visit around the centre can be distinctly emotional and thought-provoking. Visitors are made aware about intolerable injustices impacting people like ourselves and discover the struggles and progress made by those who combine forces to fight poverty.
The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre serves to raise awareness about the activities of all the Emmaus groups worldwide. It implements one of the Resolutions made by all of the Emmaus groups at our world assembly in Jesolo, Italy, in April 2016: “Keeping our heritage alive”.
The media is still interested in Abbé Pierre. Each year, dozens of articles, radio and television broadcasts are devoted to Abbé Pierre and his place of remembrance, especially in the regional media, but also in the national and European media.
Young people collect second-hand items for Emmaus amongst their friends and family, after visiting Esteville.
After taking part in an event, people of all ages put themselves forward to become volunteers.
The media impact of the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre’s communications and events benefit the neighbouring Emmaus groups. People who have never given to Emmaus before donate items or become customers.
In summer 2017, the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre organised a cultural action residency with disadvantaged young people (civic education and street art). The partnerships formed with social and leisure centres have continued beyond the residency.
Schools come to visit every year. They have included the Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre in their programme. They encourage other schools to come and visit the centre.
Culture requires visitors to make an effort. You need to concentrate and be willing to go to a museum that covers such a serious, and sometimes disturbing subject. The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre has to communicate a great deal to achieve modest results. This reality is inherent to the cultural sector: places of culture communicate more, while obtaining lower results than most other sectors of activity. And yet communicating requires substantial resources. For this reason it is fairly hard to gain publicity and make the public want to come and visit the centre.
The culture sector is a subsidised sector. Nowhere are culture and learning directly “profitable”. Self-financing is therefore almost impossible to reach. By its very nature, The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre relies on the generosity of French and European Emmaus people and groups to continue to develop its activities. It needs the Emmaus groups to support it by publicising its existence, exhibitions and events. And by promoting its activities for schoolchildren.
The Abbé Pierre – Emmaus Centre needs financial resources and volunteers with specific skill sets: mediation, education, events logistics, communications and sponsorship.