Khanh Anh of Évry-Courcouronnes: in the largest pagoda in Europe

- through Fabrice Groult

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It took more than twenty years to build this 3000 m2 building, inaugurated in May 2017. Report at the Khanh Anh pagoda in Évry-Courcouronnes on the occasion of the European winter seminar.

A light rain falls on Évry-Courcouronnes still dozing. In the distance, in the extension of the pagoda car park, the towers of the city of Épinettes emerge from a blanket of mist. It is 5:30 a.m. this Friday, January 3. Inside the religious edifice, wrapped in their saffron yellow or orange kesas, monks and nuns glide silently in small groups through the vast 550 m2 prayer hall. Under the benevolent gaze of a large Buddha – a four-meter-tall statue lined with gold leaf – religious and lay people gradually take their places on their meditation cushions. In front of them, on small orange plastic stools, are prayer books. A monk opens the ceremony with the beating of a gong and then a drum. The room begins to fill with recitations of sutras. Some hundred monks and nuns mainly from Europe, but also from North America and Asia, almost all of Vietnamese origin with two or three exceptions, are gathered for this ten-day winter seminar. This morning, the session begins with a ceremony of repentance. "During this work of purification, we recognize our faults in order to purify ourselves", explains Cédric Hue-Nghi, a young French monk officiating in a monastery in Frankfurt (Germany). "During the first five days of the seminary, the monks and nuns cannot leave the Pagoda. This spatial constraint forces us to refocus. The gathering also aims to weld the bonds between us and to get to know the new monks and nuns. »

Hymn to Buddhism and the Orient

The Khanh-Anh pagoda was erected in Évry, along the national 7, on a hill overlooking the Seine, a few hundred meters from the Sud Francilien hospital and the Genopole dedicated to research in genomics, genetics and other biotechnologies. . With its two large stupas culminating at 18 and 19 meters in height, its ocher facades and its roofs and eaves at raised angles, covered with orange glazed tiles, this monumental ensemble, a veritable hymn to Buddhism and the Orient, stands out of UFOs in this suburban cityscape. Installed on a plot of 4000 m2, the pagoda is made up of several buildings. The central building is made up of a huge prayer room and a 600 m2 room for cultural activities flanked by a stupa culminating at 25 meters. To its right, an administrative building houses the premises of the Vietnamese Buddhist congregation and accommodation for monks and nuns in training. The other two stupas, orthogonal in shape and saffron yellow in color, covered with eaves and an overhanging roof, are pierced by a series of semicircular bays. One of them will be able to contain up to 5000 funerary urns so as to allow the faithful to come and honor the ashes of their deceased. “Families who wish to do so can buy a concession and place the ashes of their ancestors there. Several floors are still unoccupied”, slips Kim Ong, a faithful now retired, who plays the role of guide.

“In the early 1990s, Jacques Guyard, Deputy Mayor of Évry-Courcouronnes, wanted to build a multicultural city, to bring together several religions while respecting secular republican values. » Venerable Thich Quang Dao

On the terrace, at the foot of the prayer room, sits a chubby Buddha with a laughing air. Six babies, five of them facetious, move about on her plump belly, trying to climb on her shoulders. “They symbolize the five senses. The sixth, meditating in the lotus position, represents reflection, introspection that masters all the senses », continues Kim Ong. But the "star" of the place is the big Buddha installed, in the heart, at the back of the prayer room. This imposing statue of five tons was manufactured in Thailand, according to ancestral processes, before being transported to Europe, assembled then installed in the pagoda of Évry in 2002. It was consecrated in July 2006, then blessed by the Dalaï -Lama in 2008. Adjoining the prayer room is an altar dedicated to the deceased, studded with hundreds of photos of missing persons.

Why was this pagoda erected here in Essonne? “In the early 1990s, Jacques Guyard, who was then deputy mayor of Évry-Courcouronnes, wanted a pagoda to be installed there. He wanted to build a multicultural city, to make several religions coexist while respecting secular republican values. He presented several lands to the Venerable Thich Minh Tam who chose this one », explains, in his native language, the Venerable Thich Quang Dao, the principal of the Évry Pagoda. Originally from Vung Tau (formerly Cap Saint-Jacques), a city located about 58 kilometers from Saigon, this 1981-year-old man arrived in France in 1984, before being ordained in the Buddhist sangha in 2009. In XNUMX, he was ordained Venerable Superior of the Shanga in a ceremony held at the Vien Giac Pagoda in Hannover, Germany.

Spiritual capital of the South of Ile-de-France, Évry also has a cathedral, designed by the architect Mario Botta and completed in 1997, a large mosque, built in the early 1990s and able to accommodate 1500 people, two synagogues including one inaugurated in 1981, a Protestant center and an evangelical Protestant centre… A team of believers from different religions publishes, each year, an interreligious calendar of Essonne, listing month after month the main Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Muslims.

Twenty years of work

The construction of the Évry pagoda was not a long calm river. It took more than twenty years to complete the work started in 1996 by the Venerable Thich Minh Tam (read our box). The construction site had to be interrupted several times due to a lack of sufficient financial income. The building was largely financed by donations and loans from the faithful, mostly French, European and sometimes from other continents.

The cost of the work, estimated at seven million euros in the 1990s, finally more than tripled to reach twenty-four million euros. “At the time, the mayor of Évry encouraged us to build a building capable of withstanding the test of time. We therefore opted for reinforced concrete, a more expensive material. We have also added two floors to the original project. Finally, certain elements or materials, such as glazed tiles, dragon or lotus sculptures and precious wood balconies, had to be imported from Asia, generating significant transport costs", enumerates Venerable Thich Quang Dao to clarify the reasons for these additional costs.

It's 12:30 p.m. Monks, nuns and lay people are now seated, in the basement, in the large multipurpose room. On the vegetarian menu: sautéed noodles with vegetables and tofu served with rice. Lunch, taken in silence, ends with a slow traditional procession, accompanied by recitations of sutras. The procession moves slowly towards the courtyard in front of the pagoda before climbing the stairs towards the prayer hall, where monks and nuns return, one after the other, to their meditation cushions.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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