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.
Picture courtesy of Marion Ranoux.

Earlier than the Revolution, standard 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 going through the Rising Solar of the East the place ordained clergymen 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, crops, devils, and saints had been their items to the Virgin Mom and God the Father. The devoted beloved 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 lowered 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 fearful 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 Cause, and put in her atop the stripped altar of Notre Dame. Different ladies in pink, white, and blue danced across the nave to ballet music. Robespierre, who had an awesome following in Paris, removed holy days, the veneration of the saints; he orchestrated the mutilation of the saints’ photographs and the incineration of their relics. Crucifixes disappeared. The feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Sunday mornings had been canceled.

It was all very politically right. Summary. Imprecise.  Silly. It didn’t take. France remained, for probably the most half, Catholic, although the kids’s colleges grew to become secular colleges, with out the providers of nuns and clergymen or the point out of dogma. (The Revolution exiled 30,000 clergymen to international ports or French Guiana and had been stated 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 offered no reduction. The magnificent cathedral choirs, parish choirs, and organs in Saint Sulpice and Saint Severin, amongst others, went silent. Consequently, the Church, initially supportive of among the modifications launched by the Revolution, turned in opposition to it. For the following 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 bought to grocers for wrapping paper; Sainte Chapelle grew to become a storage granary, Val-de-Grace a army hospital, and the church of Sainte-Genevieve the “Pantheon for Nice Males.”

Sainte Chapelle, Paris.
Picture 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 clergymen had been pressured, by risk 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 outdoors the Church of St. Joseph des Carmes are stated to bear to this present day the bloodstains from the murders of clergymen 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.


Picture 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 collection and writer of the novel Earth Angels. She spends a couple of months in Paris yearly.

Tags: French Revolution, Paris, Sacred Paris, Susan Cahill

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