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cathedral destruction by the Huguenots and during the French revolution

 

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This page is a subsidiary page to Germans in France
It can only be a sampling of the vandalism during the French Red Revolution.

index
fervour and fanaticism
during the french revolution
angers
reims
soissons
laon
noyon
le mans
saint denis, paris
background facts
sainte-chapelle, paris
background facts
notre-dame de paris
fontevraud
background facts
other cathedrals damaged

related pages:



  • Marianne - a French national symbol
  • Marianne part 2: town hall statues
  • the calendar of the French Revolution
  • fervour and fanaticism during the french revolution

    Quite apart from the widespread damage done by Hitler’s National Socialists, every so often, the lunatics take over the asylum and start smashing up anything associated with the Ancien Régime, smashing up or stealing anything on which they can lay their hands.

    For example, Cluniac headquarters had the biggest gothic cathedral in Europe, as well as one of the most important, ancient libraries.

    Cluny basilica, drawn by Pierre Giffart [1638-1723]
    Cluny basilica, drawn by Pierre Giffart [1638-1723]
    Cluny is sometimes known as Cluny 3, the third church on the site.

    During the Wars of Religion [1562–1598], the Huguenots burnt a good part of the library, while the Vandals of the French Revolution [from 1789] burnt most of what was left. The revolutionary vandals also demolished the church, turning it into a stone quarry and carting the church away piece by piece.

    The futile attempt by French revolutionaries led to the widespread destruction of cathedral art. Beheading of statuary seemed to be very popular, as was the conversion of cathedrals and basilica into granaries, and carting off and selling anything moveable or attractive. This was quite apart from the damages of fire, storm and age, as well as various construction collapses.

    Such behaviour has been recently reflected in the Taliban assault on the 2000 year-old Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley, you might say that the French revolutionaries imitated Cromwell’s iconoclasts in England. There, Cromwell initiated such destruction of stained glass that very little was left intact for modern view.

    During the French Revolution that started in 1789, the Revolutionaries nationalised the Catholic Church in France. That is, they stole its property and lands.

    Angers

    Angers is home to one of the most beautiful tapestries ever produced. It lived under the protection of the great cathedral of Angers, being brought out for major festivals when it was hung around the cathedral. It appears to have been chucked out. It came to the attention of Canon Joubert, some was found being used as horse rugs and other utilitarian purposes.

    I am almost certain that this desecration was another victory of the Revolution, but I have not yet managed to check this. You see, the French Revolution is generally elided as a great victory for modern democracy and the advancement of man. Therefore, the beastliness is often skipped over in the guide books and in literature for the promotion of tourism in France.

    In these more civilised times, the great tapestry has now been provided with its own environmentally controlled home in the chateau at Angers.

     

        Reims

    beheaded small statues to the right of the Smile of ReimsDuring the French Revolution, the heads were knocked off the small statues lining the doorways of the West facade [illustrated just to the left]. However, the Revolutionaries couldn’t bring themselves to smash the renowned Smile of Reims.

    For more on Reims cathedral

     

    Soissons

    During the French Revolution, Soissons cathedral was used as a warehouse, suffering heavy damage.

    1798: the remaining parts of the portal statuary were destroyed.

    1799: restoration was started, but in 1815 two nearby powder factories exploded destroying much glass except that in the chancel.

    For more on Soissons cathedral

     

     

    Laon

    Laon cathedral, when compared to other Picardy churches, lost most of its decor and furniture in 1793. The heavier furniture was supposed to have been transferred to the country town, but the regional government decided that it would be too expensive and had a detailed inventory drawn up, so that everything could be sold to the highest bidder on the site.

    Railings and woodwork were dismantled. Paintings an statues were removed. The altars were burnt or covered in whitewash. A hundred or so paintings perished in the flames. In the canonical area, the library was destroyed.

    For more on Laon cathedral

     

    Noyon

    The cathedral was the target of much revolutionary zeal and bile, as Noyon was so closely associated with the French monarchy. In 1793, the statuary of the west and transept portals were ordered destroyed, an order that was carried out with great efficiency. Only four small corbel figures survived, which had been covered up. So the marvels of the statuary carving has been lost.

    The revolutionary government ordered the cathedral be sold, but the price put on it was so high that this did not happen, and eventually the horrors of the revolution receded. It was used as a hay barn, granary, stable and dance hall, again the usual combination of dedicated revolutionary desecration, tempered by utility.

    “After this period, the architectural history of Noyon is one of repeated dangers. When the Gothic Altarwas replaced by the inartistic marbles and gildings of the XVIII century, eight Canons protested in vain. Because Michael Angelo had put the High Altar of Saint Peter's in the transept, some educated and travelled priests of a later day tore down the old rood-screen of Notre-Dame, changed the disposition of the choir, and, in pursuance of this destructive classicisation of the Gothic, walled in the lower windows of the transept and transformed them into niches. The Revolution, scarcely more stupid, but less religious,converted the side-aisles into a stable for eight hundred horses, the transepts into store-houses, and the choir into a dance-hall. Yet, in spite of these blasphemous and absurd changes, and the fires, invasions, pillages, sieges, and storms of other times which added their disasters, the Cathedral has survived to these better days of care and restoration and is not essentially unlike the church in which, as a devoted child, the great Arch-heretic of Noyon was wont to pray.”
    [Cathedrals and cloisters of the Isle de France by Rose, published in 1910, pp206-7]

    But all this was as nothing compared to the devastation caused by the Germans a few years after the above was written. For that vandalism, see the page about Noyon cathedral.

     

    Le Mans

    1562, from 3rd April, the Huguenots ransacked the town for three months. In the cathedral statues, altars, tombs and windows suffered considerable damage.

    On the 20th of Brumaire, year 11, it was announced by the mayor that this “ancient house of error” was to be demolished, while another entrepreneur wanted to turn it into a handkerchief factory. 1798 ... pulling down the cathedral and replacing it by jails and law-courts was considered. Fortunately, the influential Société des Arts stepped in and saved the cathedral.

    Le Mans cathedral is one of the very greatest gothic structures in France, second only to Chartres.

     

    Saint Denis, Paris

    Saint Denis, the French royal church, was heavily compromised by the Revolution when it was used as a hay barn. Stained glass windows were stolen, some going into a museum collection, while others were sold into the general art market to end up in private collections as far away as Britain of the USA. Some windows were dismantled in order to use the lead for making bullets. Relics are said to have been thrown on the local rubbish dump - a common behaviour for many churches. The eagerness was enhanced by the fact that this was a site of royal internment. So the revolutionaries were smashing up the tombs and remains.

    This was part of the enthusiasm for desecrating bodies and religion that the new rationalist and atheist order that the Revolution was welcoming in. As was traditional with such regimes, the French Revolution is estimated to have left in its wake at least fifty thousand bodies. These victims were very often selected with no rhyme or reason. The revolutionaries’ enthusiasm included drinking blood, using heads for footballs and carving up naughty bits.

    For more on Abbé Suger and Saint Denis, see Cathedral construction.
    Background facts
    Saint Denis, ParisSaint-Denis coat of arms approximate population :
    average altitude/elevation : 31 m
    cathedral dimensions
    interior length : 108m
    interior width : 30 m
    height : -

     

    Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

    Sainte-Chapelle, drawing by Decloux 1857Sainte-Chapelle suffered much during the centuries, from repeated fires [1630 and 1736] and even flooding of the Seine [1690]. And then, of course, came the French Revolution. Sainte Chapelle was used as a flour store, a club room and a judicial archive. Sainte Chapelle was not handed back to its intended use for about forty years. After the depredations of the Revolution, excellent restoration and refurbishment was supervised by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus [1807-1857], and continued by Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc [1814 – 1879].

     

    Background facts
    Sainte-Chapelle, ParisSainte-Chapelle shield approximate population : -
    average altitude/elevation : 20 m
    dimensions
    exterior height: 42.5 m
    spire height : 33.25 m
    exterior length : 36 m
    interior length : 33m
    exterior width : 17 m
    interior width : 16.70 m

    lower chapel nave height : 6.6 m
    upper chapel nave height : 20 m

     

    Notre-dame de Paris

    Naturally, being in the centre of Paris, Notre Dame was a ripe target for the lunatics, so it was rapidly looted of anything that moved. The great Gallery of Kings became a prime target for the ignorant mob, chopping the heads off what they thought were the kings of France, the resulting mess being thrown into some yard. Some heads were eventually rescued and can now be seen in the Cluny museum in Paris. They also ripped off the lead roofing to turn into bullets, allowing the rain to enter, thus adding to the damage.

    Viollet-le-Duc supervised the restoration of Notre-Dame, including the Gallery of Kings, that is the Kings of Judea.

    gallery of kings, notre-Dame de Paris.
    gallery of kings, notre-Dame de Paris. image: marto55

     

    Fontevraud

    At the time of the Revolution, Fontevraud Abbey was the richest and most powerful abbey in the kingdom. It was pillaged, ravaged, partially burned. The orders were to ‘delete’ it completely. The monks’ priory was destroyed in 1793, and the rest was meant to follow.

    Napoleon saved the remaniing buildings from total destruction.

    In 1795, several proposals were made for other uses of the abbey, the three suggestions being: develop the former abbey hospice, turning it into a sailcloth factory, or a prison.

    These three options were proposed for many abbeys, including Clairvaux and Mont-Saint-Michel.

    Fontevraud abbey was converted into a prison between 1804 and 1814. Fontevraud was a prison until 1963, considered to have one of the hardest regimes. However, some detainees remain until 1985 to help restore the abbey to become the historic monument that visitors see today.

    Google map centred on  Fontevraud Abbey

    Fontevraud is now a major tourist attraction, a UNESCO World Heritage site. You could spend a whole day, or more, exploring the complex.

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    The complex at Fontevraud   Tombs of Richard I and Isabella, wife of John
    The complex at Fontevraud    Tombs of Richard I and Isabella, wife of John Lackland
     

    It includes the tombs of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard I (the Lionheart) and Isabella of Angoulême, wife of his brother John Lackland.

    Background facts
    FontevraudFontevraud coat of arms approximate population : 1,500
    average altitude/elevation : 79 m
    cathedral dimensions
    length : -
    width : -
    height : -

     

    other cathedrals damaged

    Revolutionary destruction

    Boulogne-sur-Mer cathedral: destroyed by the Revolution.

    Bologne cathedral in 1570, drawn by Camille Enlart (1862-1927)
    Bologne cathedral in 1570, drawn by Camille Enlart (1862-1927)

    Tulle cathedral was used as a factory for firearms! It also suffered other vicissitudes. The cathedral was still a mess until recently, the cloister surviving better than the rest of the cathedral. Restoration is now under way.

    Restoration work at Tulle cathedral
    Restoration work at Tulle cathedral

    Avranches: Saint-André cathedral destroyed during the French Revolution.
    “Did the cathedral of Avranches belong to the mob who destroyed it any more than it did to us who walk in sorrow to and fro over its foundations?” [John Ruskin, 1847]

    Saint-Andre cathedral, Avranches
    Saint-André cathedral, Avranches

    Perigord cathedral served time as a shop.

    Mâcon cathedral appears to have been destroyed as a result of the Revolution.

    Macon cathedral in a decaying state during the latter half of the 19th century.
    Mâcon cathedral in a decaying state during the latter half of the 19th century.

    ... and on and on it goes.

    Wars of religion destruction
    Maillezais cathedral, Abbaye Saint Pierre, was destroyed by the Huguenots. The ruins can still be seen, about twenty-five kilometres north-west of Niort.

    The ruins of Maillezais cathedral, Abbaye Saint Pierre
    The ruins of Maillezais cathedral, Abbaye Saint Pierre
    photo: Vida Hunt Francis

    Marker at abelard.org

    Some reference keywords/tags:
    cathedrale,France,Germany,1870,1914,1940,invasion,occupation,cathedrale,French Revolution 1789,basilica,Arras,Laon,Saint Denis,Saint Quentin,Reims,Laon,bombardments, Noyon,Fontevraud,Sainte-Chapelle,Mâcon,Maillezais,Huguenots,Cardinal Richelieu,La Rochelle,Tulle,Perigord,

     

    end notes

    1. Corbel
      A projection jutting out to support a weight.
     

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