Friday, 9 June 2017

The Monument des Brotteaux - place of memory?

Even today, in Lyon the legacy of the Revolution is a deeply ambivolent one.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the successive memorials erected to commemorate those executed under the Terror. Today an early 20th-century neo-Byzantine chapel marks the spot where the mitraillades claimed 209 lives in a single morning.  Inside tablets on the wall lists the executed: "victimes lyonnaises immolées en 1793 et en 1794". The crypt contains the macabre remains of the dead, assorted skulls and leg bones which are arranged round the tomb of the insurrection's Royalist  commander, the comte de Précy.
The cenotaph of 1795

The first memorial to the dead was a temporary cenotaph of wood and plaster erected - in the space of  two days -  in Les Brotteaux for the commemoration in 1795 of  the second anniversary of the federalist victory of 29th May.  It was dismantled in January 1796.  The design was by the local architect Claude Ennemond Balthazard Cochet (1760 - 1835). Sculptures were supplied by Joseph Chinard and verses by Delandine, both of whom had been imprisoned in Les Recluses under the Terror.

These were men close to the experience of Revolution. The Lyon municipal archives conserves Cochet's project for a monument for the Fête de la Fédération which took place on the Les Brotteaux plain in 1790. However, in January 1794 his brother had been executed for working under the rebels in the foundry of the former monastery of Sainte-Claire. In August 1795,perhaps for reasons of expediency, Cochet refused to provide designs for the festival marking the fall of monarchy. 

Several contemporary engravings survive which depict the monument. The inscription by Delandine extols the virtues and courage of the dead but, as befits a product of the Directory era, was neither religious or royalist in inspiration.

For a detailed description of the ceremony of 29th May 1795, see
Alphonse Balleydier, Histoire politique et militaire du peuple de Lyon pendant la Révolution Française, vol. 3 (1846), p.134

The Restoration chapel and crypt

After an abortive attempt in 1809, the construction of a durable monument was finally begun in 1814 under the Restoration.  The project was funded by public subscription with substantial funds provided by the brother of the King, the Comte d'Artois, who laid the first stone on 24th October 1814.   An architectural competition ran from July to December 1816 with the remit of designing a religious monument "d'un genre simple mais noble"; the interior was to house an altar and pillars inscribed with the names of the dead and there was to be a vaulted crypt to hold the remains.  Twenty-one projects were presented. The jury voted for the young architect Antoine-Marie Chenavard,but in the event Artois's preferred candidate, Cochet was given commission. His design (above) is now among  the "treasures" of the Lyon municipal archives. The chapel was inaugurated on 28 May 1819.

Also in the municipal archives is this drawing by Cochet dated 30 April 1821 which shows his design for the stone sacrophagus in the crypt to hold the coffin of the comte de Précy, whose remains were transferred from Marcigny on 25th September 1821.  The shrine, flanked by the tangled bones from the burial pits is depicted much as it appears today.  The exhumation of the victims was planned as early as 1814 but began only in March 1823.  The skeletons are said to have been relatively well preserved because of  the liberal use of quicklime.

"Projet d'un monument Funèbre et religieux à élever aux Broteaux pour y rappeler le souvenir des Lyonnois immolés en 1793 et inhumés en ce lieu.

Paul Feuga, "À propos de la Révolution et de deux dessins de Claude Cochet", Muncipal archives of Lyons. (Two designs by Cochet, firstly the Monument for the fête de la Fédération of 1790 and secondly the crypt at Brotteaux)

As well as the surviving plans, the 19th-century monument can be seen in a number of engravings and also in photographs which show it more or less intact at the beginning of the 20th century.  Cochet was a pupil of Boullée, and his design was a striking example of "Egyptian style".   A single massive pyramid in white stone rose from a rectangular base with only a single doorway as an adornment, the crypt being below this structure.  The simplicity of form was marred only by the addition of the chapel proper to the rear, which was tacked on rather awkwardly and is described as "vaguely oriental" in style.

Engraving from Cercle lyonnais d'égyptologie Victor Loret,  15.08.2010 .

The Ricard family monument in the Loyasse Cemetery in Lyon dates from the 1820s and is based on Cocteau's mausoleum.

The modern chapel

Cochet's mausoleum was demolished in 1906 as part of a urban renewal plan put in motion under the  mayorship of Antoine Gailleton in the late 19th century.  The motivation was a mixture of financial speculation and anti-clericalism.  According to the historian  Bruno Benoît, the royalists had caused irritation by making the chapel into a cult centre and celebrating mass there every 21st January.  In the event the municipality eventually bowed to pressure and allowed the memorial to be reconstructed just a few hundred metres away in 145 rue Crequi.  The present neo-Byzantine structure, the work of the architect Paul Pascalon, was finished in 1901 and the bones transferred there in 1906.  On 2nd August 1906 the new chapel was consecrated and dedicated to the Holy Cross.

The Brotteaux chapel is not a public monument.  It was founded by subscription on purchased land and is owned today by a private association, the Commission du monument religieux des Brotteaux. It is, and always has been,  a religious foundation,  From 1833 onwards, apart from a brief interlude at the beginning of the 20th century when religious orders were suppressed, it was under the guardianship of the Capuchins, who from 1845 to 1870 maintained a convent in the interior.  In 1979 charge passed to the missionaries of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, the so-called "Famille Missionnaire de Notre-Dame", a foundation which dates from only 1946 and is very much part of the traditionalist Catholic revival in France.  As well as guarding perpetual flame the missionaries offer a full schedule of services, but it would appear that access to the crypt is restricted. 

Brotteaux and the common memory

Who, then, owns the memory of the executed of Lyon?  This is still very much a live and bitter issue.

The bicentenary  of 1989 served only to put the question into sharper focus.  Celebrations in Lyon were notably muted. The artist and local cultural leader Jacques Oudot inaugurated Lyon's commemorative exhibition with reference to the "wounded memory" of the city.  In the 1980s an association "Lyons 93" was formed, restricted to descendants of the Lyonnais insurrectionists, and which now has over a thousand members.  Its declared aim is genealogical research, but it has a reputation for exclusivity, social conservatism and implacable hostility to the legacy of the Revolution.  No doubt the Brotteaux Commission is drawn from its membership.  The memory of the comte de Précy meanwhile has been revived by an extreme Right group called the "Cercle de Précy".

Bruno  Benoît, professor at the IEP in Lyon has made a particular study of the ideological legacy of the Revolution in Lyon. He is emphatically not amused at being forced to ask for the key to the crypt from the nuns of 14 rue Louis-Blanc.  A 2012 article in Le Point repeats his observation that all classes are represented among the dead - clergy, bourgeois, nobles, "gens du peuple" and workers - and his fear that the royalists are confiscating the memory of these martyrs.



Official video of the Commission du Monument Religieux des Brotteaux:

L'Ossuaire de la Chapelle Ste Croix, (nice photos)

Documentation Lyon et Rhône-Alpes, Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon:

And the Memory of 1793:

Bruno  Benoît, "Histoire, mémoire et identité politique : L'exemple de la Révolution à Lyon"
Annales historiques de la Révolution française  1996, 305(1);  p. 491-509

" Le sanctuaire qui divise"  Le Point, 18.10.2012.

"La crypte des Brotteaux : dernier tombeau des Lyonnais tués par l’armée de la Révolution", article of 12.08.2014 (recounting a visit).

A more lighthearted codicile to the debate is provided by Walid Nazim, who in 2009 wrote a book on the arêtes de poisson, strange passages under Lyon, and various other subterranean "mysteries" of the city - among them the Brotteaux crypt.  His reason for including the monument is simply that the place is creepy and secret; the descendants of the dead gather there, he says, on significant anniversaries (29th May and on 12th October).  He has a suitably atmospheric video to back up his point.  The Famille Missionnaire isn't giving in though;  Brother Antoine enjoins us to respect the privacy of the descendants and it would seem that the order shuns publicity more than ever.
See:  Les mystères de la ville de Lyon:

No comments:

Post a Comment