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The Terror: The Fall of the Throne and Altar



Posted on April 28, 2022

by Susan Cahill

Throne and Altar, Altar and Throne. The 2 go collectively in pre-Revolution France as intimately as any two members of a royal household. 

Saint-Sulpice, Paris.
Photograph courtesy of Marion Ranoux.

Earlier than the Revolution, widespread spiritual religion was a mixture of conventional beliefs in a triune God (the trinity): God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, every glorified inside a colourful and paradoxical context of myths, superstition, and miracles. 

The homes (later church buildings) the place the individuals worshiped their God had a major altar dealing with the Rising Solar of the East the place ordained monks celebrated the commemorative sacrament of the Eucharist. These church buildings and cathedrals had been the dream world of the Christian Center Ages. The small print of stone, coloured glass, marble, gold, and wooden, every sculpted right into a incredible imagery of animals, vegetation, devils, and saints had been their presents to the Virgin Mom and God the Father. The devoted liked these sanctuaries of magnificence, the coloured glass of Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle, Saint-Denis and Saint Germain l’Auxerrois, the marble statuary of Saint Germain des Pres, Saint Joseph des Carmes, and Saint Eustache; the carved woodwork of Saint Gervais. On Sunday mornings, a day of worship, the wild church bells rang out all through Paris. Processions in honor of this saint or that martyr added to the enactment of Christian pleasure.

The French Revolution (1789 – 1795) marked a radical rejection of Throne and Altar. Following the murders in 1793 of King Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette, their thrones disappeared and the royal altars had been diminished to marble slabs, stripped naked of all ornaments and sacramentals. All this stripping, emptying, and destruction was referred to as de-Christianization. No extra church bells on Sunday mornings in Paris, no extra Sundays. The “Terror” (1793 – 1794) was the excessive level of de-Christianization. Maximilien-Francois de Robespierre dominated as Father of the Terror who was himself anti-clerical however scared of atheism, of France turning in opposition to faith and embracing…nothing.

Robespierre dressed a anonymous younger girl in pink, white, and blue chiffon (the colours of the French flag), named her the Goddess of Motive, and put in her atop the stripped altar of Notre Dame. Different women in pink, white, and blue danced across the nave to ballet music. Robespierre, who had an amazing following in Paris, removed holy days, the veneration of the saints; he orchestrated the mutilation of the saints’ pictures and the incineration of their relics. Crucifixes disappeared. The feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Sunday mornings had been canceled.

It was all very politically appropriate. Summary. Imprecise.  Silly. It didn’t take. France remained, for probably the most half, Catholic, although the youngsters’s faculties turned secular faculties, with out the companies of nuns and monks or the point out of dogma. (The Revolution exiled 30,000 monks to international ports or French Guiana and had been mentioned to have executed as many.) Parisians stopped attending Sunday mass partly as a result of the sermons now given by politicians had been so lethal boring. Church music supplied no aid. The magnificent cathedral choirs, parish choirs, and organs in Saint Sulpice and Saint Severin, amongst others, went silent. In consequence, the Church, initially supportive of a number of the adjustments launched by the Revolution, turned in opposition to it. For the subsequent hundred years, the Church lived in a state of counter-revolutionary hatred.

Robespierre and his disciples—the sans-culottes—had been as sensible as they had been ideological. Altar linens from Sainte Chapelle had been made into shirts for troopers. Church books had been offered to grocers for wrapping paper; Sainte Chapelle turned a storage granary, Val-de-Grace a army hospital, and the church of Sainte-Genevieve the “Pantheon for Nice Males.”

Sainte Chapelle, Paris.
Photograph courtesy of Marion Ranoux.

Fueling the feverish anti-clericalism of the Revolution was the popularity of the fabulous wealth of the Church and its attendant corruption. It was the most important landowner in Paris. It additionally owned many of the metropolis’s jewels, artwork, silver, gold, and cash. The church buildings and monasteries, in addition to particular person monks and monks had been compelled, by menace of the guillotine, to present it up in addition to to signal the New Structure that rejected the rule of the Pope.

The guillotine and environs—or the stabbing mutilations inside and on the entrance to church buildings–reeked of blood and corpses. The cobblestones exterior the Church of St. Joseph des Carmes are mentioned to bear to at the present time the bloodstains from the murders of monks on the times of the September Massacres.

Paris, lastly, had extra sense than its de-christianizing revolutionaries or the violence of Bonaparte. With a Bourbon King (Louis XVIII) again on the throne within the early nineteenth century, the altar additionally re-appeared. Louis constructed some new church buildings, re-baptized others, and made Sainte-Genevieve a church once more. His work was referred to as “a non secular revival.” However, within the phrases of Colin Jones’s Paris: The Biography of a Metropolis, Louis Philippe rejected “something which smacked of the outdated union of “Throne and Altar.” That was gone for good.


Photograph Credit score: Joseph Cahill

Susan Cahill has revealed a number of journey books on France, Italy, and Eire, together with Hidden Gardens of Paris and The Streets of Paris. She is the editor of the bestselling Ladies and Fiction sequence and creator of the novel Earth Angels. She spends a number of months in Paris yearly.

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