Résumé

The Chevalier-de-la-Barre was beheaded at the age of twenty-one and his body thrown at the stake. Why such a severe punishment? The Chevalier-de-la-Barre was condemned to death by the judges of the presidial of the city of Abbeville for not having removed his hat nor having knelt at the passage of a procession, for having sung songs of the guard corps and for holding Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary. It was on July 1, 1766.

Today, the name, the monument in Abbevillois and the statue in Paris of this "victim of religious intolerance" remain rallying points for free-thinking militants. Associations exist bearing the name of the Chevalier de La Barre: in Paris and in Abbeville.

Localisation
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Statue du Chevalier-de-la-Barre
Square Nadar
Rue Saint-Eleuthère
Paris, 75018, France

  • The Square Nadar is on the Butte Montmartre, almost at the exit of the upper funicular station, west of the Parvis du Sacre-Coeur
Address

Statue du Chevalier-de-la-Barre
Square Nadar
Rue Saint-Eleuthère
Paris, 75018, France

Coordinates Latitude Longitude
Sexagesimal (°, ', ") 48° 53′ 09″ N 2° 20′ 31″ E
Degré décimal (GPS) 48.88591 2.34184
Description complète

The Chevalier-de-la-Barre was beheaded at the age of twenty-one and his body thrown at the stake. Why such a severe punishment? The Chevalier-de-la-Barre was condemned to death by the judges of the presidial of the city of Abbeville for not having removed his hat nor having knelt at the passage of a procession, for having sung songs of the guard corps and for holding Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary. It was on July 1, 1766.

A conviction for impiety and blasphemy

It is the last conviction of this kind pronounced in France.  Especially since the illegality of the sentence that will be pronounced, blasphemy should not be punished by death in France since a decision of Louis XIV in 1666. How then, in the Age of Enlightenment and when the Church itself, worried about the consequences of such a judgment, had solicited royal clemency, could such an "appalling adventure" (Grimm) have occurred?

How it all began

The affair began with the simple defacement of a crucifix on the Pont Neuf in Abbeville, the perpetrator of which was never identified. From the popular emotion aroused by this minor incident, which could have dissipated in a few days, the "odious affair" of Abbeville was born, fostered by the combined effects of the general political context, the dramatization of the sacrilegious act by the bishop of Amiens, local and Parisian personal rivalries, and the zeal of the assessor of the town's criminal lieutenant, Duval de Soicourt, a commoner with thwarted ambition.

Duval de Soicourt, without proof but with tenacity, mixing proven and supposed facts, made the affair swell, and implicated the small turbulent band of young nobles to which La Barre belonged. The seizure of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary at the home of the knight - who was not very well educated - transformed youthful irreverences into a political affair, and reduced to impotence the supporters of La Barre, an orphan, taken in by a relative, Anne Marguerite Feydeau, abbess of the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Willencourt near Abbeville.

The chain of events

Suspicion fell on a few members of the town's wealthy youth, known for their antics and provocations. Among them was the Chevalier de La Barre. The notables of Abbeville hurried to shelter their sons, and even one of them, Gaillard d'Etallonde, took refuge in Prussia. The only ones left in Abbeville were La Barre, who had little family support, and Moisnel, who was 15 years old.

The police and judicial investigation was led by M. Duval de Soicourt, police lieutenant and mayor of Abbeville.  The testimonies most often concerned other facts - for example, a disrespectful attitude when a procession was passing by - than the facts directly concerning the accusation; they were nevertheless considered to have value as evidence. The mutilation of the crucifix, however, had no eyewitnesses.

La Barre was arrested on October 1, 1765 at the abbey of Longvillers. La Barre, for his part, denies the facts of which he is accused. A copy of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary and three licentious books were found in his house, which aggravated the suspicions in the eyes of the prosecution.

Trial and conviction of the Chevalier-de-la-Barre

On February 28, 1766, the Chevalier de La Barre was condemned by the Presidial of Abbeville for "impiety, blasphemy, execrable and abominable sacrilege" to make amends, to have his tongue cut out, to be decapitated and burned. Gaillard d'Etallonde was judged in absentia and condemned to the same punishment, and also to have his fist cut off. It was decided that La Barre would be subjected to the ordinary question and the extraordinary question before his execution.

To be enforceable, the verdict of the judges of Abbeville must be confirmed by the Parliament of Paris. The knight was transferred to the Conciergerie prison and appeared before the Grand Chamber of the Parliament of Paris. He was not assisted by a lawyer. Out of twenty-five magistrates, fifteen confirmed the judgment of Abbeville, on June 4, 1766. Because of his young age, Moisnel was only condemned to an ordinary fine.

Several personalities intervened with Louis XV to obtain the pardon of the condemned. But Louis XV refused to use his right of pardon. He would have been guided by the following reasoning: a few years earlier (January 1757) the Parliament had condemned Damiens who had tried to assassinate the King for the crime of lèse-majesté. This trial had been held against the will of Louis XV, which was later reproached to him.

The execution of the Chevalier-de-la-Barre

The Chevalier-de-la-Barre was tortured in Abbeville on July 1, 1766. In the morning, he was subjected to the ordinary questioning, and was put to the rack. The young man lost consciousness, he was revived, and he declared that he had no accomplice. The courage of the condemned man is such that one renounces to tear off his tongue. The executioner decapitates him with a blow of the sword. His body was then thrown at the stake, as well as a copy of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary that was nailed to his chest15. He was twenty years old16. The disturbance caused by this execution was such that the other accused were not prosecuted.

Rehabilitation of the Chevalier-de-la-Barre

La Barre, presented as a deicide, was only rehabilitated during the Revolution in 1793, after the fall of the monarchy of divine right and the disappearance of the crime of heresy. Considered a victim of obscurantism and arbitrariness, the Chevalier de La Barre would become a symbol of the struggle for secularism a century later.

Why a street and a statue of the Chevalier-de-la-Barre in Montmartre?

The street Chevalier-de-la-Barre starts at 9, rue Ramey and ends at 8, rue du Mont-Cenis. In fact, it is also partly a staircase.

This name was chosen by the anticlericals of the Third Republic while the Sacré-Coeur was being built and despite the intervention of the Church, in the person of the Bishop of Amiens.  The "rue de La Barre" was made official for the first time by the decree of November 10, 1885, and the name was changed to "rue du Chevalier-de-La-Barre" by the decree of June 24, 1907.

During the Paris Commune, executions took place in the portion of the street that was still called "rue des Rosiers". In the Crimes of the Commune, the shooting on March 18, 1871, of generals Claude Lecomte and Clément-Thomas, who were on the side of the Versaillais, was represented. Shortly after, on May 28, 1871, the communard Eugène Varlin was shot at the same place.

To note in this street the carmel of Montmartre (n°34), the city of the Sacred Heart (n°40) and its path of stars placed in the ground, reproducing the constellations. Consisting of small lamps, it lights up at dusk. At n°61, in the 1965 film, Mata Hari, agent H 21, Claude Rich is stopped on the terrace of a café, today Au Petit Creux.

The statue of the Chevalier de la Barre is located 50 m from the Parvis du Sacré-Coeur, in the Square Nadar, between the streets Azaïs and Saint Eleuthère.

In Paris, in 1897, Freemasons of the Grand Orient de France obtained permission to erect a statue of the Chevalier de La Barre in front of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, in Montmartre. It was moved in 1926 to the Nadar square. It was removed on October 11, 1941 under the Vichy regime. On February 24, 2001, the Paris City Council decided to erect a new statue of the Knight of La Barre, in Nadar Square. It is the work of the sculptor Emmanuel Ball and the founder Michel Jacucha. On the cartel, mention is made of the freedom of thought of the young nobleman against religious intolerance embodied by the Capuchin order, an order that advocates real poverty, in fraternity with the poor.

Today, the name, the monument in Abbevillois and the statue in Paris of this "victim of religious intolerance" remain rallying points for free-thinking militants. Associations exist bearing the name of the Chevalier de La Barre: in Paris and in Abbeville.

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  • July 15, 2024 9:51 pm local time

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