Orthodox church built of larch in Thorenc There is the village of Thorenc above Cannes, beyond Grasse, on the land of the Andon commune, in a gently sloping valley among low mountains, coniferous forests and lakes. It was of great importance for Russian Orthodoxy on the French Riviera before the Revolution of 1917. Thanks to Its mountainous microclimate Thorenc rightly deserved the title of the Swiss Riviera. Formerly, a harmonious combination of a warm breeze, the moderate height of the Prealps (Thorenc is situated at an altitude of about 3940 feet) and the abundance of springs (there are fifty-six springs and several lakes in the Andon commune) prompted the Riviera’s Russian diaspora to move for the summer from the hot seaside above to the picturesque and not sultry Thorenc (at that time a special express train ran to Thorenc from Nice). The first ski resort in France appeared in Thorenc as well.
According to oral tradition, at that time many stayed to pray at the Church of the Archangel Michael in Cannes for some time after Pentecost, and then the Russian diaspora would move to the Prealps, to Thorenc, till the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross or the Protecting Veil of the Most Holy Theotokos—till autumn. And, of course, the issue with an Orthodox church in Thorenc was resolved—it was built by Princess Gagarina from local larch, which guaranteed the solidity of the church until recently.
Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich, Tsar Alexander III’s cousin, the chief builder of St. Michael’s Church on Boulevard Alexander III in Cannes, also did much to strengthen the Orthodox presence in Thorenc.
In June 1905, Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich put his villa “Kronstadt” in Thorenc at the disposal of Russian officers wounded in Manchuria. A month after the Grand Duke’s proposal, the wounded officers arrived in Thorenc, accompanied by Dr. Vorobyov, chief surgeon of the Kiev Military Hospital, the adjutant and the Orthodox clergy of Cannes. They were met by the Russian consulate in Nice’s representative and various prominent figures of this mountain resort, and the arrival of the wounded soldiers was marked by many banners, garlands, and Russian and French flags.
That solemn reception was part of the wider diplomatic context of the Franco-Russian alliance concluded in 1892. The treaty stipulated that the two countries should support each other in the event of an attack by the Triple Alliance’s countries. Thus, later the French Marshal Ferdinand Foch wrote in his memoirs:
“If France has not been erased from the map of Europe, then we owe this, first of all, to Russia.”
In August of the same year, during the visit of twenty-seven mountain troops to Thorenc, a large joint honorary meal of French and Russian soldiers was held at Kronstadt villa, after the French paid tribute to the Russians for their battles in Asia. That solemn meeting contributed to an even greater rapprochement between the two allied countries. On August 16, 1905, the Le Littoral newspaper reported about dithyrambic speeches of Colonel Uspensky of Russia and General Marjoulet of France. In addition, during 1905, ceremonies and charity evenings were held in Cannes to pay tribute to and provide financial support to the convalescent Russian soldiers.
Thorenc also had special economic significance for Russia. The famous local Ruhr family responded to the Emperor Nicholas II’s proposal to create a perfume industry in Russia and built the first perfume factory in Moscow, an album with old photographs of which is still carefully kept.
On the whole, the church has not been damaged on the outside, and the choir loft and the spiral staircase remain in excellent condition. For some time after the events of 1917 in Russia, the Orthodox church in Thorenc was in use, but then left derelict, and the plot of land passed to another owner. Until 2015, the church was in good repair, but that year a storm broke a heavy branch above the church, which broke through the roof and rain began to get inside the church, ruining the floor in its central part. The choir loft and the spiral staircase leading to it are still in excellent condition.
The church stands on private property and the owner of the land on which it stands has given us several months to dismantle and move it. The Mayor’s Office has allocated a plot of land for this purpose in the central part of the tourist recreation area, not far from the ponds and the parking lot. There is a plan. The church consists of collapsible wooden blocks (panels), which greatly facilitates the task of moving the church to its new site. We urgently need to act and move the church from private property to the good new site allocated by the Mayor’s Office. Funds for this task are incomparably less than for the restoration of our long-suffering historic Church of the Archangel Michael in Cannes, where work is not currently being carried out due to external circumstances.
In 2015, above the church roof a storm broke a large heavy branch, which broke through the roof, and rain began to penetrate the church and damage its interior. Dear brothers and sisters, if you are not indifferent to the fate of the unique Russian Orthodox wooden church in Thorenc and are ready to help preserve it, please contact our parish lawyers, Gerard and Elena (www.stmichelcannes.fr/kontaktnye-dannye), who are looking after this good cause. Thank you!