Teams blast giant statue of cult leader built illegally in French Alps
CASTELLANE, France (AP) – Demolition crews on Thursday dynamited a giant concrete statue of a cult leader that was built illegally in the French Alps. Members of the sect looked on, praying, while area residents cheered.
The statue of Gilbert Bourdin, who led the secretive Mandarom sect until his death in 1998, toppled backward in a cloud of white smoke after teams set a 44-pound charge.
Many residents of Castellane, in southeastern France, thought the 107-foot-tall statue was ugly and fought for years to have it removed on the grounds that it was built without a permit.
The painted statue depicted Bourdin with florescent eyes, wearing a golden crown and holding scepters. Bourdin sometimes referred to himself as the ”Cosmic Christ.”
At dawn Wednesday, police entered the Mandarom sect’s mountain retreat with court papers authorizing the statue’s destruction. Later in the day, they moved in with jackhammers.
The town’s mayor said he was pleased the statue was finally toppled.
”I ask myself how we let people build something so ugly in such a beautiful setting,” Michel Carle said.
Cult members withdrew high in the hills, ringing bells and beating on drums. As the charge went off, they fell silent and prayed.
Bourdin, a former teacher from the French Caribbean island of Martinique, founded the Mandarom cult in 1969. Followers are strict vegetarians who wear loose-fitting tunics and keep their heads shaved.
France has cracked down on religious sects in recent years, in response to groups such as the Order of the Solar Temple, which lost 74 members in mass suicide in France, Switzerland and Canada between 1994 and 1997.
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