Wednesday 10 July 2019

Remains of the Revolutionary cults

There are a number of churches in France which preserve inscriptions or other physical traces from the period of dechristianisation in late 1793 and early 1794. A few from the early months but the vast majority are from after the decree of 18 floréal an II (7th May 1794), which promoted worship of the Supreme Being as the state-sponsored cult.  As part of the drive towards uniformity, on 23 floréal the Committee of Public Safety ordered that, where the  inscription "Temple of Reason" had been  added to former churches, it should be replaced by the formula of Article 1 of the Decree of 18 floréal : "The French people recognise the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul".  The decree was to be read publicly each décadi for a month, in these buildings.(Aulard, p.280-1; 134). However,  although the new orthodoxy was mainly positively received by agents of government in the provinces,  discontinuity with previous dechristianisation initiatives was not always perceived.   On some churches the inscription "Temple de la Raison" was left and the designation continued to be used in the orders and proclamations of the local authorities.  In some places the cult of the Supreme Being even retained the name cult of Reason. (Aulard, p. 347)  The Revolutionary cults mostly survived the fall of Robespierre and churches retained their Revolutionary designations into the late 1790s.

The  most comprehensive list can be found on the genealogical wiki, WikiGenWeb, which has details and photographs of some forty churches with dedications to the Supreme Being:

WikiGenWeb, "Les églises françaises ayant gardé trace du culte de l'Être suprême"

See also, on :
"Quand l'étrange culte de l'Être suprême s'affichait sur les façades des églises"

Some examples:


Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul, Gonesse (Val d'Oise)

Among the relatively few churches where the designation "Temple of Reason" is still visible, is the church of Saint-Pierre-Saint-Paul in Gonesse, in the Val d'Oise, today a north-eastern suburb of Paris.  Here the black letters of "Temple de la  Raison" are clearly visible beneath the later dedication to the Supreme Being:
See: Eglises de Paris et d'ailleurs

Saint-Martin, Ivry-la-Bataille (Eure)

The church of Saint-Martin, in Ivry-la-Bataille in the Eure retains an unusual dedication  to both "Reason" and "Philosophy".
According to  Michel Vovelle, the Eure was in one of the areas where the influence of Parisian dechristianisation was most acutely felt. The Departmental authorities have published a list of inscriptions from six different churches which "became Temples of Reason during the Revolution". However, the other examples are doubtful. The church at Louversey has a standard dedication to the Supreme Being.   Three of the others (Saint-André de l'Eure,Chavigny-Bailleul and Verneuil-sur-Avre)  have the slogan "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", which was probably added later, during the Second or Third Republic.  Only the inscription on the beam over the altar in Saint-Barthélémy de Thomer at St.Thomer-la-Sôgne, which includes the date 1792, looks likely to date from before 18 floréal.

Service Territorial de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine de l'Eure, "Les églises de l'Eure devenues temples de la Raison à la Révolution" (2014)'Eure%20devenues%20temples%20de%20la%20Raison%20%C3%A0%20la%20R%C3%A9volution.pdf

For later Republican slogans, see the article on

Saint-Jean-Baptiste,  Criteuil-la-Madeleine (Charente)

Despite the order of 23 floréal, at local level, the contrast between the Cult of Reason and new profession of faith in the Supreme Being was not always apparent at local level.   In this interesting (if slightly over-restored) example from  Criteuil-la-Madeleine, Charente, in South-West France, the designation "Temple de la Raison" is happily coupled with the later formula recognising the Supreme Being.

 Saint-Laurent, Saint-Laurent-sur-Othain (Meuse),_inscription_Temple_de_la_Raison.JPG

Here is another example of the inscription "Temple de la Raison", this time from the North-East (posted on Wikipedia in August 2015)


Saint-Sulpice,  Paris

Saint-Sulpice is the only remaining church in central Paris to retain a Revolutionary dedication. Over one of the main doors is the faint inscription: "Le Peuple Français reconnaît l’être Suprême et l’immortalité de l’âme”

Saint-Sulpice was closed for Christian worship in February 1793, well before the main dechristianisation movement in November 1793. The cult of Reason was celebrated there for a few months, from April to July 1794, then that of the Supreme Being.  From 1797 to 1801  the church was  ceded to the Theophilanthropists.  On 15 brumaire an viii (6th November 1799) the church was the venue for a superb fête to honour Bonaparte on his return from Egypt, and for the six months that followed it was known as the Temple de la Victoire.
Paris Unplugged, Paris 06 – Le culte de l’Être Suprême

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Clermont-Ferrand 

This inscription on the north door of the Cathedral was restored in 2006.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Annunciation and Saint Sigisbert, Nancy 

See the article and photograph by Pascale Debert, 16.10.2015, on ColeurNancy [blog]

Collegiate church of  Saint-Thomas, Crépy-en-Valois (Oise) 

This clear and well-documented example is on the gate of the former collégiale church of Saint-Thomas (now ruined) in Crépy-en-Valois.
Eric Dancoisne, "Le culte de l'Etre suprême à Crépy-en-Valois en 1794". Mémoires du Valois, article of 31.05.2011

Saint-Loup, Bléneau  (Yonne)

This is another clear and much-photographed example, from Bléneau.  A chiselled out "Temple de la Raison" is just visible beneath.

Fortified church of Vendresse (Ardennes)

Le blog de François Munier

Saint-Jacques et Saint-Christophe, Houdan (Yvelines)

 "Quand les églises gardent la trace de l’Être Suprême…" Chouans et Vendéens [blog]  post of  02.05.2014.
un seul en Anjou (église de Saint-Sulpice-sur-Loire), deux en Charente (abbaye Saint-Étienne de Bassac, église de Citreuil-la-Magdeleine).


1. Paintings in Chartres Cathedral

During the course of restoration work at Chartres, completed in 2016, two Revolutionary trompe-l'oeil paintings were revealed on columns in the nave. They depict shields, with an olive branch and sword, one with the inscription "République" and the other "Constitution".  The iconography is consistent with a probable date of 1792.

"Une question sur la Cathédrale de Chartres",, blog Masonique  post of 09.05.2018.

2.  Newly listed inscriptions from Picardy and the Nord/Pas de Calas

There are not many inscriptions from this area: the list on WikiGenWeb identifies one church in the Somme (Croixrault), one in the Oise (Crépy-en-Valois),  one in the Pas-de-Calais (Rebreuviette), none at all in the Nord or Aisne.  In April 2018 and May 2019, however,  the Voix du Nord published articles describing two further examples.   The first is the church of Saint-Liéphard in the commune of Raye-sur-Authie in the Pas-de-Calas.  This has a syncretic inscription "Temple of Reason dedicated to the Supreme Being".  The second isSaint-Firmin in  Marles-sur-Canche, a suburb of Montreuil-sur-Mer.  Here the inscription "Temple of Reason" has been amended later in a different hand.   Inside the church the pulpit once bore a Revolutionary carving of a knife and the label "tribune republicaine".

Philippe Lambert, "Raye-sur-Authie Au fronton de l’église, un rarissime souvenir de la révolution française", La Voix du Nord, 24.04.2018
_____, "Marles-sur-Canche: sur le mur de l’église, un rare témoignage de la Terreur révolutionnaire" La Voix du Nord,  05.05.2019.

A notice on the ARBR website takes issue with the Voix de Nord headline,which describes the inscription at Marles-sur-Canche as "a rare witness to the Terror":  In 1793 Marles-sur-Canche was  a village of only 300 inhabitants; the inscription was not  the result of "the Terror" but a local application of the law of 18 floréal. The inscription clearly survived the recall and arrest of Le Bon, the chief architect of "dechristianisation" in the Pas-de-Calas.
"Quand l’église de Marles-sur Canche « témoigne de la Terreur »", Amis de Robespierre pour le Bicentenaire de la Révolution, 17.05.2019

 3.  Paintings from Foix in the Ariège

In July 2016 some remarkably preserved Revolutionary wallpaper was discovered in the church of  Notre-Dame-de-la-Daurade in Tarascon-sur-Ariège,  in South Western France 
See my previous post:.

More traces of Revolutionary decoration have subsequently been found in theAriège, this time on the back of a painting of the Pentecost from the abbey church of Saint-Volusien.  There are four panels with tricolour patterns, cockades and a Phrygian bonnet. It is not certain whether the decoration originally adorned the Chapelle Saint-Jacques, the original home of the painting,  or Saint-Volusien, the principal church of Foix.

La Dépêche,  "Foix. Derrière une toile du XVIIIe se cachent les vestiges du temple de la raison",  artciel of 03.12.2016
____, "Foix. Opération restauration pour quatre tableaux de l'abbatiale Saint-Volusien", article of 17.03.2019,8073480.php

Archives de l'Ariège, Service éducatif, topic for schools, plus powerpoint presentation.

3. Revolutionary decor from the church of Saint-Maurice, Lille

Luce-Marie Albigès & Claudine Wallart, "Le culte révolutionnaire de la raison en l'an II", Histoire par l'image, post of March 2016.

In March 2016 the website Histoire par l'image featured two watercolours by François Verly depicting designs for the interior of the  "Temple of Reason" in Lille.

In September 1793 the Municipal Council of Lille decided to transform the huge church of Saint-Maurice - the only one not left totally ruinous after the siege of 1792 - into a "Temple of Reason". The local architect Verly, who had already managed the celebrations for the fête de la Fédération in 1790, was charged with designing the decor.  The symbolism follows closely that of the festival of 20 brumaire in Paris.  A mountain is surrounded by  a painted evocation of the natural landscape, including the tombs of Rousseau and Marat.  On the summit was to be placed a marble statue of Liberty by the sculptor Charles-Louis Corbet - it seems he made a plaster model but never progressed any further with the commission.  The temple was inaugurated only on 21st September 1794, two months after Thermidor.  However,  Republican ceremonies continued until the end of the Directory; it was not until then that the scenery was finally dismantled.

4. Church of Saint-Trophime, Arles

Rick Steves, who produces US travel guides, spotted this fresco of a triangle with a sunburst in a side-chapel of the church of Saint-Trophime in Arles, and identified it as a Revolutionary relic.  Sadly, he is probably mistaken. The image is an "Eye of Providence", familiar from the symbolism of Freemasonry,  but also part of much older Christian iconography. This example looks faded - I'm guessing it is17th-century, if not older.

Rick Steves, "The legacy of the French Revolution in Arles", Rick Steves' Europe [blog], post of 9.06.2015.

Saturday 6 July 2019

A Revolutionary Prayer

 Anonymous engraving, produced chez Basset, Paris, 1794.
We should not assume  too readily that the Cult of the Supreme Being was all about central control and state-imposed religion.  Many individuals undoubtedly saw the decree of 18 floréal as an opportunity for genuine religious expression. It chimed with a current of  syncretic but deeply emotional deism, which married easily with Revolutionary commitment. Aulard in his great study of cult of reason collects together some of the favourable texts. Among them is this "Republican prayer" included by the progressive schoolmaster  Philippe Sérane, as part of his "Catechism of a Citizen", published in 1793.

Sérane's Catéchisme du citoyen -  copy offered for sale on ebay

Republican prayer

For the use of my pupils and already adopted by several educational establishments

I believe in an all-powerful Being, eternal, infinite in perfections, self-knowing and self-loving.

I believe that the stars, the earth with its planets and its animals, the elements of life and all that exists, are the work of a benevolent Creator.  I adore Him in my mind and in truth, and I offer to Him all my thoughts, words and deeds.

To obtain His all-powerful protection, I desire always to walk in his presence, to fulfil with worth the duties of my position; to employ for the service of the society, into which and for which I was born, all the strength of my body, all the light of my intelligence and all the virtues of my heart.

I promise to never do wrong to anyone, but to treat others as I would wish to be treated.  Thus I might make myself worthy of the bounty of He who every day overflows the universe with his gifts and makes the sun shine on the good and bad alike.

I wish to live and die a good republican, convinced that this form of government is the only one admitted by nature, since it is the only one conformable to the Rights of Man.

Receive, O My God, this saintly resolution, and give me the strength to fulfil it.

[At this point private prayers can now be added.]

Catéchisme du Citoyen à l'usage des jeunes Républicains français  Paris 1793, p.63-64

see  Aulard, Le culte de la raison et le culte de l'Être Suprême (1892), p.337-8

Jean-Jacques de Boissieu, Le grand Maître d'école, engraving of 1770

The author

Philippe Sérane, before the Revolution the abbé Sérane, was a tutor and "former teacher ("professeur") of history and eloquence" in Paris. His birth and death dates are not known, but he was not a young man at the start of the Revolution: according to the Mercure, he had 34 years teaching experience in 1787.   He was author of numerous textbooks of history and geography, the earliest of which date from late 1760s.  They include an appreciative dialogue on the "Newtonism" of Voltaire published in 1779. 

In 1770 Sérane was one of the founders of an Institution de la jeunesse, a secular elementary school, in Angers.  Details are given in his Tableau du globe (1770):  An association of gens de lettres in Paris,  all well qualified as schoolteachers and instituteurs,  decided to set up the school to offer a"physical, moral and Christian" education based on the best modern practice.  They enjoyed the approval of Sartine, but, for reasons of economy,  had decided to found their establishment in the provinces. The school opened in La Flèche in September 1768.  The large number of pupils then obliged a move to Angers, where they currently occupied prestigious premises in the Hôtel d'Anjou (Hôtel des ducs d'Anjou), rue du Figuier, in the centre of town.  Pupils were taken up to the age of 14 and  charged 600 livres per annum.  As pensionnaires they could either attend the local college or elect to be taught entirely within the school. These were very much young gentlemen - the school even provided them with daily visits from  a perruquier and a laundress. Religion was a central focus - there was confession every month, and fête days were devoted to religious study.   Sérane is identified as a "correspondent"; quite probably he acted as the school's agent - his name is given as contact in the prospectus which  appeared in the Mercure in 1772. 

It is not clear what eventually became of the school, but by 1787 Sérane was once again in Paris, writing on his own account and offering to take in private pupils.  In 1793 he is described as an "instituteur national" and his address is given as No 45 or 46, quai de Chaillot.  He was active into the 19th century -  the last of his books is recorded as  published in 1800.

In 1774, with a reissue in 1787, Sérane, published a work of education theory based (fairly loosely) on "the principles of Rousseau" and accompanied  by a set of essays written by one of his nine-year old pupils.  

He was from the first an enthusiastic supporter of the Revolution.  His L’Heureux naufrage of 1789, uses an imaginery utopia  to present the world's deliverance from tyranny by "an astonishing and happy revolution";   he is confident that penal laws will soon be promulgated which will ensure the tranquillity and happiness of all.  He later pestered the National Convention with various projects, including the design for a stamp to be used on currency and official documents:  In 1793, as well as producing his "catechism",  he took the opportunity to reissue his theory of education.- copies of which still languishing in the bookshop due to the death of the editor.  He did not trouble to make amendments, but merely added a list of errata to make the text more appropriate to Revolutionary times: for example: 

For  Plan of a civil and Christian education, read Plan of a reasonable and Republican education;  
For Young gentlemen, read Young people;  
For Our august religion, read The religion of Nature etc.

And, most interestingly, for the historian of Revolutionary deism:
For The mysteries of our august religion, and the reading of holy books; read The actions of the Son of Man, and the sublime doctrine  show in his parables and  modelled in his life.


Philippe Sérane,  L’Heureux naufrage où l’on trouve une idée de législation conforme à l'humanité, à la nature et au bien public, Paris, Impr. de Demonville, 1789

_____, Théorie d'une éducation républicaine : suivant les principes de J. J. Rousseau : présentée à la Convention, par le Citoyen Serane, instituteur national, quai de Chaillot, no.46.
Prospectus for the 1787 version, Journal Encyclopédique, vol. iii (1787) p.156-159

There is a bibliography of Sérane's works  in La France littéraire, vol.9

The School in Angers: 
_____, "Institution de la jeunesse, par une société de gens de lettres, à l'hôtel d'Anjou, à Angers", in Tableau du globe ou nouveau cours de geographie (1770), p.369-382.
Prospectus: Mercure, May 1772, p.198-201.

See Jurgen Oelkers, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (2014), p.191
In this book on Rousseau's education theory, Sérane is given as a typical example of a schoolmaster who refers to the authority of Rousseau in a general way without really implementing his ideas.

Monday 1 July 2019

The bonnet rouge of Strasbourg Cathedral

With its single spire towering to 142 metres, the Cathedral in Strasbourg was the tallest building in the world until as late as 1874.  During a recent visit, I heard for the first time how, the spire was saved  during the Revolution by the addition of a giant metal bonnet rouge. The tale seemed unlikely but further investigation confirms that it is perfectly true.

In late 1793  the depredations of dechristianisation and Revolutionary iconoclasm began to make themselves felt in Strasbourg.  On 25 brumaire an II (15th October)  the Muncipal Commission under Mayor Pierre-François Monet – at 24 the enfant terrible of the Revolution in Strasbourg - closed several churches closed and made  them into stores for fodder. Two days later Monet announced that the cathedral would be dedicated to the national cult and bear the name "Temple of Reason": for fifteen centuries it had stood as a  theatre of imposture; in a mere three day it had been purified from “all the ridiculous ornaments of fanaticism".

The cathedral in 1809
At first no move was made against the cathedral’s fabric itself, apart the removal of the iron grilles between the choir and the nave, which were sacrificed to the war effort. However, on 4 frimaire (24th November), the representatives Saint-Just and Lebas, ordered that the statues of Kings were to be toppled from the new Temple of Reason and a tricolour flag flown from the tower. Their demands met with consternation at the Hôtel de Ville, where the influence of Monet was not yet preponderant. The Revolutionaries found themselves caught between fear of being compromised and their love for the building which had long been a source of local pride. Orders were given on the same day to proceed with the removal the great bronze doors which were erroneously thought to be solid metal. A small number of the most politically compromising statues were also taken down, but the municipality courageously insisted that the cathedral was a “national monument” and opposed the destruction of stonework integral to the structure. In the end, however, it proved impossible to resist Monet and on 17 frimaire (7th December 1793) the work of destruction began in earnest. In the end more than 200 statues were destroyed. A gigantic tricolour flag was placed over the West door, and a sign hung on the facade which proclaimed, "Light after darkness". The cathedral’s other doors were also surmounted with wooden panels bearing revolutionary inscriptions. Inside the famous 15th-century pulpit (happily safely dismantled), was replaced by a Revolutionary tribune.   
Cathedral of Our Lady in Strasbourg, turned into a Temple of Reason
Illustration from : J. Ch. Dieterich: Revolutions-Almanach von 1795. Göttingen 1794

It seemed increasingly unlikely the spire would escape. In the Jacobins on 24 November 1793 the local terrorist, Antoine Tétérel proposed that it should be demolished to the base of the tower.   He was seconded by the municipal Bierlyn who complained that the citizens of Strasbourg “regard with pride this pyramid, raised up by  the superstition of the people and standing as a reminder of former errors”. Tétérel subsequently became a member of the municipality and renewed his proposition, claiming that the spire was offensive to the spirit of equality. His colleagues temporised and complained that the cost of demolition was prohibitive.
It was the locksmith and ferronnier Jean-Michel Sultzer, himself a member of the municipality, who is traditionally credited with resolving the dilemma by proposing that the cross on the top of the lantern should be capped with a Phrygian bonnet to symbolise the liberation from slavery of the people of the Rhine:  "Foreigners will see it from the opposite bank of the river and it will stand for us, like the Jewish brazen serpent, against the suffering of slavery" The idea was not entirely novel: a district circular had previously instructed that symbols of superstition were to be replaced "by bonnets of liberty, visible from afar, so that foreigners can see these signs of our independence and so that they can gladden the hearts of true Republicans" (quoted Reuss (1922) p.294) The enormous bonnet was made out of sheet metal painted bright red. (une immense coiffure phrygienne en tôle, badigeonnée d'un rouge vif,)  According to the municipal records work was carried out on the between 23 floréal and 5 prairial (12 May and 13 June 1794); other sources have 4th May for the date when the bonnet was hoisted up - at the expense of some damage -  to the top of the tower. The arms of the cross were hidden with oak garlands, also in metal, painted green. Nicknamed the "Kaffeewärmer" by locals, the bonnet remained proudly in place until 27 germinal an X (17th Apil 1807). Jean-Jérémie Oberlin, the town librarian, then had it placed  with assorted curios in the municipal library in the former church of the Dominicans. It was finally destroyed by fire during the German bombardment of Strasbourg in 1870.

There is a certain amount of scepticism that this feat of engineering was really possible with the technology available in the late 18th-century:  see for example, the discussion on the Forum Napoleon:
A lot depends on how big the bonnet really was.  According to some websites it was 10 metres tall, which is truly enormous and, apart from anything else, far too large to fit into an upstairs room of the municipal library, where the Strasbourg historian Rodolphe Reuss reported that he had seen it several times.  However, it need not have been quite so huge in order to cover the apex of the cross at the very top of the spire.  This picture from the 1920s gives some idea of scale: it suggests the bonnet need only have been two metres or so high, which seems more realistic.

Postcard on "Geneanet" dating from about 1920.

There is a bit more information to be had about Sultzer:

Born in Strasbourg in 1740, he was in his fifties at the time of the Revolution and was an established master locksmith.  As well as creating the bonnet, he was responsible for dismantling the iron grilles and the doors of the Cathedral.  His premises at 24 place de la Cathédrale still stand;  since 1871 they have belonged to the family firm Antiquités Bastian.  The facade of the building is adorned with a bust, thought to be that of Sultzer, or possibly Tétérel (The fine iron shop sign showing the cathedral and its bonnet was erected by Jean Bastian in the 1980s.)  Sultzer's wife was Madeleine Drouel.  Their son Charles-Michel became a renowned doctor, and  their daughter was Soeur Vincent Sultzer, superior general of the Soeurs de la Charité in Strasbourg from 1813 to 1868.  

Sultzer himself was a committed Revolutionary.  Several websites mention him as a  friend of Euloge Schneider, the notorious Public Prosecutor of the Revolutionary tribunal in Strasbourg.  An compilation of "Hommes de la Revolution" in the Revue d'Alsace for 1882 has the following summary of his career:

Sultzer (Jean-Michel)  
Born in Strasbourg in 1740, Master Locksmith in the Place de la cathédrale before 1789.  
Member of the Society of  Jacobins (24 May 1792)
Notable of the commune (18 January 1793)
Member of the Committee of Surveillance of the Jacobins (10 October 1793)
Municipal officer (30 January 1794)
Appealed to his fellow citizens for shoes and equipment for the Army of the Rhine (7th April)
Reelected as  Municipal officer (23rd April)
Approved the arrest of a hundred suspects (26th and 30th May)
Supported measures of general security proposed by Bierlyn (13th June)
Supported proposal for the construction of a warship against England (24th July) 
Congratulated  the National Convention for the measures against Robespierre and others (2nd August)
Confirmed as Municipal officer under the new Mayor André (5th September)
Present in the Jacobins (25th October)

Sultzer died in 1799.

Hervé Schuler, Un bonnet phrygien pour la cathédrale  Almanach Sainte-Odile, Diocese of Strasbourg. 2010
Rodolphe Reuss, La cathédrale de Strasbourg pendant la Révolution,1789-1802, (1888)
_____, La Constitution civile du clergé et la crise religieuse en Alsace 1790-1795 (1922)

Archi-Wiki, Strasbourg: Entry for 24 Place de la Cathédrale.
"Rencontre avec les Bastian, antiquaires de père en fils" Amazing Strasbourg [blog]. 12 January 2016.
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