Thursday, 9 May 2019

A Calendar of Notre-Dame in the Revolution

The last days of the Cathedral Chapter

In the first months of the Revolution, the Archbishopric of Paris and the Chapter of Notre-Dame could do little more than follow the King's lead in seeking conciliation with the new  order. 
 Archbishop Leclerc de Juigné took his place in the National Assembly and the Cathedral became integrated into Revolutionary commemorations and ceremonial.

15th July 1789:   The new mayor of Paris, Bailly and a deputation from the National Assembly attended a Te Deum to celebrate the taking of the Bastille and the "re-establishment of peace".  Mgr de Juigné  personally led the delegates from Hôtel de Ville to the Cathedral.  On this occasion Juigné made a  personal gift of 20,000 livres for the unemployed workers in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, whilst the canons pledged 12,000 livres.

16th August:  A Te Deum was sung in thanks for the abolition of titles and feudal privileges on night of 4th August:  "this was the last of a series of actions of grace, more resigned than joyous, ordered by the Archbishop or the corps capitulaire" (Leflon (1964) p.111)

Sunday 27th September 1789 : The blessing  took place of the sixty flags of the Parisian National Guard.   Mgr de Juigné officiated in the presence of Bailly, Lafayette, the deputies of the National Assembly, the representatives of the commune and the districts of Paris.  The abbé Fauchet, a member of the commune, pronounced a decidedly secular discourse "on French Liberty" (reproduced in Delarc (1895) p.159-60). The military nature of the occasion was underlined by the salute of guns that was fired within the Cathedral.

Blessing of the flags of the National Guard, 27th September 1789

16th October 1789
:  Following the October Days, the National Assembly held its final session in Versailles before transferring to Paris.  Archbishop de Juigné took his opportunity to leave France and go into exile in Chambéry.  A Mandement issued in Archbishop's name in February 1790, lists the seven vicaires-généraux, who now struggled to govern the diocese in his name.(Delarc, p.186).

19th October-8th November 1789:  The National Assembly  took up temporary residence at Notre-Dame and held its first session in Paris in the grande salle of the Archbishop's palace.  The commission of finance sat in the meeting room of the Chapter. The last session at the Archevêché took place on 8th November.   The peace of the cloister was  compromised by the presence of the deputies and popular agitation became menacing. The Chapter sent to the Mint various items of silver and its great candelabrum - a prelude to the mass spoliation imposed by the nationalisation of church property on 2nd November.

2nd November 1789:  The National Assembly passed its decree nationalising church property. The Chapter lost at a stroke annual revenues of more than 620,000 livres. The Canons had already, on All Saint's Day, suppressed the Cathedral's choirs and musicians. They understood well that they had only few months to survive in office.

The funeral cortege of the Clergy of France passes in front of Notre-Dame. Revolutionary print commemorating the decree of 2nd November.

10th February 1790:  The King and Queen, accompanied by Bailly, attended a mass at the Cathedral, visited the Hôtel-Dieu  and Hôpital des Enfants-Trouvés.  This occasion underlined the decline of royal authority:  their Majesties let it be known they did not need a reception; the mass took place in a  side-chapel, with only the bell of the Chapter sounded. (Leflon, p.111)

14th February 1790:  A Te Deum was celebrated to commemorate the session of the Assembly of 4th January in which Louis XVI promised to defend the constitution and the deputies swore fidelity to the nation. The civic oath was renewed in a thoroughly military ceremony.

Te Deum sung at Notre Dame on the 14th February 1790, in memory of the Session of the 4th at which the King was present.  

The caption to this print reads: "The solemnity of the day was announced by a cannon, 10,000 men of the National Guard were drawn up.  M. the Mayor, at the head of the Commune received the National Assembly, which entered the Cathedral to the sound of military instruments. A discourse pronounced by the abbé Mullot preceded the Civic Oath.  The 60 flags were raised, the Guard stood at arms and the officers drew their swords.  They swore fidelity to the Nation, the Law and the King, even to death."

19th February 1790 : The marquis de Favras performed an amende honorable before the principal door of the Cathedral prior to his execution.  There was a considerable military presence and large crowds.

22nd February 1790:  The electors of Paris assembled at the Archbishop's palace to hear the procès-verbal of the capture of the Bastille on 14th July 1789.

20 May 1790:  A crowd burnt on the parvis of Notre-Dame the protestation drawn up by the Chapter against the decree of 13th April, which refused to give Catholicism the status of state religion.

 12 July 1790:  Civil Constitution of the Clergy voted.  Chapters and collegiate bodies were to be suppressed.

13 July 1790:  A service was held in the Cathedral to commemorate the first anniversary of the creation of the permanent committee of  the Hôtel de Ville in 1789.  The occasion featured a performance of La Prise de la Bas­­tille, a hiérodrame (a sort of oratorio)  by Marc-­Antoine Désaugiers in which the "energetic accents" of liberty were recreated with the aid of alarm bells, musket shots, drum rolls and war trumpets. 

13th November 1790:  Bailly and two administrators of the biens nationaux placed seals on the property of the Chapter.

22nd November 1790:  The Canons of Notre-Dame officiated for the last time.  Following the high Mass, the municipality of Paris read to them the decree of the National Assembly and advised them that they could no longer enter the church as canons.

Under the Civil Constitution

16th January 1791:  The services of the day, which was a Sunday, were conducted for the first time by Constitutional priests.  The municipality of Paris attended.

4th February 1791:   Louis XVI renewed his oath to maintain and defend the Constitution.  A deputation from the National Assembly and the Commune attended mass and a Te Deum was sung in the Cathedral.
Between 27th January and 27th March, 781 electors were convoked at Notre-Dame by the procureur général-syndic Pastoret, to vote for the constitutional clergy of the diocese  The first bureau formed to scrutinise the candidates including Dommanget, the  freemason Bertolio and  - Danton! .Between 6th February and 13th March five further sessions took place.  On 13th March at 11 o'clock the Assembly met to choose the "metropolitan of the Seine".  After the singing of the Veni Creator and the celebration of Mass, voting took place under the presidency of citizen Poiret, who was enthroned on a high chair in the nave, above which was written the single word "God". Jean-Baptiste Joseph Gobel, Bishop of Lydda was elected  as the new Bishop of Paris, by an overwhelming 500 out of 664 votes. That same evening, Bishop Gobel went  to the Jacobin Club to solicit affiliation.

17th March 1791Proclamation of Bishop Gobel: In his discourse Gobel assured the authorities of his respect for the Civil Constitution and his diocesans, as well as his charity and zeal  The Church  bell of Paris rang out as a long procession was made around the Cité, ending with a Te Deum. The event was orchestrated by the commander of the National Guard, Baudin de la Chesnaye.

This ceremonial which, it seems, out to be only religious, was almost entirely a military affair.  A numerous detachment of the National Guard, many drummers, many musicians of the Parisian army, formed the cortege of our new pastor, who was accompanied by very few ecclesiastics.
Prudhomme, Révolutions de Paris, vol. 7, p.487

Sunday 27th March: The canonical investiture of the new Bishop by Talleyrand took place at Notre-Dame in an immense and ostentatious ceremony.  Gobel said mass, preached and consecrated nine new Constitutional prelates. He then processed via the Marché neuf to the Palais de justice.

Official account from the Moniteur
A simple altar had been set up in the nave of the metropolitan church.  Grenadiers of the National Guard stood in ranks on the steps of this altar.  Deputations from the National Assembly, the municipality, and the department of Paris, assembled at ten o'clock and the new bishop took the oath.  A salvo of artillery and all the church bells of Paris announced the moment of the installation.  The metropolitan cathedral was filled with a huge crowd of citizens who made the vaults of the temple resound with their cheers at the moment that the oath was taken.  These acclamations were renewed in all the streets which the bishop passed through as he processed round the cité
 cited by Delarc, p.434)

Prudhomme has a rather more critical account:
Several public papers have complained that the ceremony for the solemn installation of the bishop of Paris, on Sunday 27th March, took place with more pomp than decency.  There was indeed much pomp, and the decency appropriate to the time and place was not always observed: What was to be done?  It was not the people's fault.  Here is what happened:

Two tightly drawn-up ranks of grenadiers formed a thick curtain each side of the altar: the people who had crowded in to attend the ceremony, which was intended principally for their benefit, could see nothing at all.  As the bishop arrived and mounted the altar, the crowd  were aggrieved by the soldiers' great busbies.  They grumbled at first then,  finding that they were ignored, cried out long and loud, "À bas! À bas!"

Several citizens,  at the back of the crowd, believed that the cries were addressed to the bishop himself and were the work of some sort of cabal in the pay of the refractory clergy.  This was made more plausible by the fact that several of M. Juigé's people, at the windows of the Archbishop's palace, had the imprudence to show their indignation at the usurpation of their master.

However, it was not they who were responsible for the scandal;  it was caused by the presence of the soldiers who were required to maintain peace and order, but pretended they were there to make the occasion more tranquil and august.

A foreigner who did not know the news of the day, but was attracted into the church of Notre-Dame by curiosity, asked us: What has this poor bishop done and what punishment are they going to impose on him?  We replied;  Don't worry about the prelate.  The punishment inflicted on him is a sweet one; he will take possession of a see, which is worth 50,000 livres in revenue.
Révolutions de Paris, vol. 7, p.608

13 April 1791:  Papal bull condemning the Constitutional Church was issued. Despite the deepening schism,  Gobel proceeded to the reorganisation of his diocese.

15th May 1791: The sale of church bells in Paris was ordered.

16th June 1791 :  Gobel gave first communion to a group of children, whom he presented before the Jacobins and the National Assembly to make their patriotic declarations. The  Journal of the Jacobins and the Moniteur preserve mawkishly sentimental accounts of this occasion. (see Delarc, p.484)

13th July 1791:  A Te Deum was ordered by the electors of Paris to mark the second anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. 

25th September 1791:  A Te Deum was celebrated for the completion of the new Constitution and its acceptance by the King.

22nd July 1792: . Proclamation of "La Patrie en danger" - an amphitheatre  for civic enrolments was erected on the parvis of Notre-Dame.

17th August 1792: The Commune ordered  crucifixes, lecterns and all bronze in the churches be taken for canons; iron grills were to be made into pikes..

23 July and 3rd August 1793: The Convention ordered all church bells to be taken and placed at disposition of minister of war.  On 20th August the Commune decreed that the church bells in Paris were to be broken up, allowing only two to remain in each parish.   In Notre-Dame only the great Emmanuel bell survived.


For the Church the Terror only truly commenced in November 1793; the Constitutional Church was allowed to continue despite the hostility of the Commune.   Even in June 1793, five months after the execution of Louis XV, the Corpus Christi processions went out in the streets without disorder. The Convention did not send a deputation, but did not hold a session on 30 May to allow those deputies who so wished, to attend.   On 27th June, the Convention confirmed the continuation of salaries for priests.

Dechristianisation accelerated after Convention's decree of 16 Brumaire (6 November) which stated that a commune had the right to renounce Catholic observance.  The initiative was spearheaded in Paris by the Commune under procureur Chaumette.  On 7th November, the stream of renunciations of  vocation by Constitutional Clergy, was given impetus by apostasy of Bishop Gobel. 

20 Brumaire (10th November 1793):  A Festival of Liberty took place in Notre-Dame.  The Convention bows to pressure and decreed that the cathedral would henceforth be a Temple of Reason. A fortnight later the Commune decreed the closure of all churches in Paris and placed all the parishes of Paris under sequester.  From then on the Notre-Dame was entirely closed for worship; it was not reopened until 1795.


M.Dubu, Histoire, description et annales de la Basilique de Notre-Dame de Paris (1854)

 Odéen Jean Marie Delarc   L'église de Paris pendant la révolution française, 1789-1801, Volume 1 (1895)

Jean Leflon, "Notre-Dame de Paris pendant la Révolution", Revue d'histoire de l'Église de France, 1964, vol.147  p.109-124

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