Another network member introduces themself:
Maxime Hermant: I am a French PhD student at Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense (Paris 10) under the direction of Pr. Monique Cottret. I am working on the religious issue in Provins – a town of 5000 inhabitants to the East of Paris – from the Revolution until the end of the Napoleonic Empire. My research is based on microstoria and the impact of religious legislation in a small locality that was not marked by acts of violence.
The composition and the history of Provins led me to choose this place for my project. In fact, almost 300 ecclesiastics lived here at the beginning of the Revolution. It is possible to identify four parishes, four chapters and several convents of monks and nuns – Benedictines, Cordeliers, Dominicans, Capuchins, Genovefans, a Notre-Dame congregation in charge of the education of young girls, a “Hôtel-Dieu” and a college led by Oratorians. How did they live through this period of upheaval? To answer this question, it is necessary to study the organization of the local church, the impact of the suppression of monastic vows and the breach between constitutional and refractory priests due to the obligation to take the oath and the retractions after the condemnation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy by the papal authorities in spring 1791. Second, although the French Revolution is traditionally associated with efforts to put in practice a policy of “dechristianization” which began during the later XVIIIth century, several continuities from the Old Regime to the Empire can be underlined.
Several scholars – Monique Cottret, Dale Van Kley – proved that XVIIIth century was religious and recent works has shown that central authorities did not put in practice any form of “dechristianization” in order to destroy religion. However, the country was swept by a deep wave of religious iconoclasms and struggles against Catholic Church. It has to be described as a complex and local moment during which mentalities evolved in different ways. In Provins, many priests were put in jail at the end of 1793 and the municipality ordered the closure of churches and forbade the public practice of cult. But several strands of local behavior exhibit continuities. For example, brotherhoods – as Maurice Agulhon demonstrated it – were traditional places of sociability and volunteer expression of religiosity. They are assimilated as a way of underground resistance to the religious policy of the years 1793-1794 in opposition to the revolutionary sociability expressed through Jacobin clubs. Unfortunately, underground often means lack of primary sources but a few brotherhoods continued their public activities after the interdiction in August 1792. In spite of an interruption in 1793 and from 1795 to 1797, the Provins’ winegrowers gathered under the patronage of St. Paul in January 1794 without questioning the new order. They adopted the republican calendar – they dated their register on “le 5 pluviose lan 2e de la République” – engaged a correspondence with the local club and sang a Te Deum for the salvation of the homeland.
This small example shows that religious tradition did not necessarily oppose the new situation and the Revolution was not a homogenous dechristianized movement. Writing religious history of the French Revolution is still necessary. Since the 1980s and the important contributions of Michel Vovelle, Timothy Tackett and Bernard Plongeron, these topics have been relatively neglected by historians. Nowadays, Paul and Caroline Chopelin’s studies about Lyon’s church have brought up-to-date the religious issue amongst French scholars. This doctoral thesis contributes to this historical interest in the analysis of Church, religious practice and behavior during the Revolution.