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.

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