It really is shocking to know that a prostitute was enthroned on Paris's Notre Dame's altar during the French Revolution, isn't it? I've never read an account of the thing, though. But I just now came across this and thought I'd post it. It comes, via Google Books, from "The Pictorial History of England During the Reign of George the Third: 1792-1802,
" volume III, by George Lillie Craik, Charles MacFarlane. I warn you, it's pretty sickening reading...:
On the 10th Abbe Sieves, who had long been sitting a silent member in the Convention, ruminating some new constitution which should succeed that of Herault de Sechelles, rose to express his exceeding great joy at the triumph of reason over superstition and fanaticism, and to proclaim that no worship but that of reason and liberty and equality suited a republic, or was worthy of the French people. On the same day was celebrated the first Feast of Reason. Chaumette, on the 7th (Gobel's day), had said that Reason merited a place in the brilliant epochs of the French revolution; and he had then and there petitioned the Convention to charge its Committee of Public Instruction to give a place to the Festival of Reason in the new calendar. As neither the Convention nor its education committee attended to Chaumette's petition, he settled the matter himself with the general council of the commune, who ordered that the festival should be celebrated on the 10th in the ci-devant metropolitan church or cathedral of Notre Dame—that the bands of the national guards and other musicians should meet in that church, and play and sing patriotic hymns before the statue of Liberty, •which should be raised in the place where the statue of the ci-devant Holy Virgin had formerly stood. But printer Momoro, to whom the management of the spectacle was mainly intrusted (painter David not being ordonnateur on this occasion), went far beyond the letter of this municipal order. Besides the bands and the singers, Momoro mustered all the opera girls and grisettes of Paris, turned the interior of the old Gothic cathedral into a theatre, got a danseuse of repute to figure as Liberty, and made his own wife do the part of the Goddess of Reason. Over the spot where the high altar had stood (for altars, lateral chapels, and crucifixes were already all swept away or concealed by canvas hangings), there was a lofty platform, covered and painted so as to represent a mountain, and on the summit of this mountain there was a temple dedicated to Philosophy, and surrounded by the statues and busts of the philosophers who had most contributed to bring about the revolution and this age of Reason, such as Voltaire, Diderot, &c. While the bands and chorus-singers stationed at the foot of the mountain made sweet republican music, two troops of young women (the opera girls, and grisettes, and other denizens of the Palais-Royal), thinly clad in white, crowned with oak-leaves, and carrying torches in their hands (torches of Truth), traversed the mountain, descended, and re-ascended it; then Liberty (a premiere danseuse of the opera) came out of the temple of Philosophy, and set herself down upon a green canvas hillock, to receive the adorations, or homages, of the republicans and republicanesses, who sung a hymn in her honour, the words by Chenier, the music by Gossec. When the hymn was over, Liberty rose from her green seat, walked back to the temple of Philosophy, paused at the threshold, cast a fond glance upon her worshippers, and disappeared within the temple, in the midst of shouts of joy and enthusiasm, and oaths of eternal fidelity to her. Thus far we follow the account which Momoro himself gave of the affair in the newspapers. The printer may possibly have exaggerated the effect produced by his own spectacle, yet it really appears that the Parisians enjoyed the sight exceedingly. Of his own wife and her doings, and her dress or undress, as the goddess of Reason, he modestly says nothing; but there are accounts of her appearance from other pens. The commune, the council of the department, and all the constituted authorities, attended this morning in Notre Dame, or now Temple of Reason, except the National Convention, which was busy in preparing decrees for the abolition of the old religion, the seizure of church utensils, &c. In consequence of the absence of the legislature, it was resolved that the performance should be repeated in the evening, when the deputies might have more leisure, and that they should be invited to the spectacle by the goddess of Reason in person, and by her orator, Chaumette, procureur of the commune. As evening approached, an immense procession, the sections of Paris and the magistrates of that city, marched to the Convention w ith the living statue, the flesh-and-blood goddess of Reason. They were admitted into the hall with beating of drums and flourishes of trumpets, and cries of "Long live the republic! Long live Reason! Down with fanaticism!" The goddess (Mrs. Momoro), seated on a classical chair carried on the shoulders of four tall citizens in Roman costume, wore a white dress, pure and transparent, a sky-blue mantle, a red cap of liberty; her hair flowed loosely about her neck and shoulders (which the mantle was not meant to cover), and she carried in her right hand a pike, the tip of which was not of iron, but of ebony. She was surrounded by the young women in thin white dresses (the opera girls and grisettes). The citizens who bore her halted right in front of the president's chair, and then the ciiizenesses in white, and the citizens in black, blue, and brown, sung a hymn to her honour. This done, Chaumette told the legislators that Fanaticism had lost his hold on men's minds; that his squinting eyes could not bear the dazzling light; that the ancient temples were now purified and regenerated; that to-day an immense people had gathered under the Gothic roofs, which for the first time had been made to echo with truth; that there the French had performed the only true worship. "Yes," he continued, "we have abandoned our inanimate idols for Reason, for this animate image, this masterpiece of nature!" He pointed to the goddess on the citizens' shoulders, and the goddess of Reason, alias Mrs. Momoro, smiled, as opera divinities smile or smirk. Chaumette then demanded that the ci-devant church of Notre Dame should be henceforward consecrated solely to the worship of Reason. Ex-capuchin Chabot put the demand into a motion, the Convention hurried to vote it: it was voted by acclamation, and the legislators were thanked with songs and kisses—with kisses from the goddess herself, whose only ungratified wish now was to see them all in the temple they had consecrated to her. And after kissing and accolading the goddess, the conscript fathers formed in processional order, followed her to Notre Dame, and joined the commune and all the magistrates in singing chorus to the hymn in her praise. "Now,' said the 'Journal of Paris,' "we may safely say 'that we have got rid of superstition; that the republican decades have killed the Christian Sabbath!'"
Celebrations of the like kind soon followed in other churches in Paris, and in nearly all the departments. In some of the churches the installation of the goddess of Reason was accompanied by the most revolting obscenity—by feasting, drinking, smoking, carmagnole dancing in the naves, and orgies beyond the pillars and in the side chapels behind the canvas, which can be imagined, but may not be described. Under the diligent care of Hebert, Chaumette, and their crew, the new worship, which was to be solemnised on every decade, or tenth day, was nicely regulated. The mayor (Pache still held that office in Paris, and continued to hold it till the month of May, 1194), the municipal officers, the public functionaries of vurious orders, were the officiating priests: they read and expounded the Rights of Man, the constitutional acts, and the laws that were made by the Convention to keep the republic standing and going; and they also gave an analysis of the news from the armies, with oratorical accounts of all the brave deeds that had been done or made known between one decade and the other. In imitation of the terrible Lion's Mouth of the old Venetian republic, there was a strong-box called Truth's Mouth placed in the Temple of Reason, to receive denunciations, informations, or advice useful to the iepublic. Every decade the receptacle was opened, and the letters and papers found within it were read. Generally some orator pronounced what they called a moral discourse; and always the ceremonies ended with music and republican songs. Two galleries were appropriated, one to old people and one to citizenesses in the family way, the first gallery bearing the inscription, Respect d la vieillesse—the other, Respect et soins aujcfemmes enceintes*
The pillage, mutilation, and desecration which had been going on in nearly all the churches ever since 1790 now became wholesale plunder and open destruction. Chaumette led the van, by demanding on the 11th of November, the day after the first festival of Reason, the demolition of the statues of saints. Hebert wanted to knock down all church towers and steeples as things contrary to the line and principles of equality. Before this most of the church bells had been seized and melted; and now there went forth a decree that no village or country-town was to keep more than one bell, which was to serve for sounding the tocsin. The sacred vessels, the reliquaries, the rich shrines, all the costly ornaments and furniture of churches, abbeys, and religious houses were seized by mobs of the people, who generally professed to carry every fraction of the property to the Convention or to the local authorities, to be offered up on the altar of the country, but who, in most cases, appear to have appropriated no small portion of the spoil to their own use and profit. Sculptures, and paintings, and carvings, beautiful and valuable as works of art, or interesting from their-antiquity, were mutilated or destroyed (if of bronze or the .more precious metals, they were melted); hardly anything was spared; the graves of the dead were not respected. The decree of the Convention, which ordered leaden coffins to be turned into bullets, had led to some rummaging in cemeteries and church-vaults; but now the sanctity of the grave was violated for spleen, spite, or mere sport, or in the hope of finding valuable relics, or out of a beastly fanaticism which could not tolerate the decencies of Christian interment, or the distinctions which wealth and affection, or the gratitude of sovereigns and governments, and popular communities, had made in former days between the remains—in themselves equal enough! —of different individuals. This war on tombs raged all over France; but it was nowhere else so fierce as at the abbey of Saint-Denis/the buryingplace of kings, the Westminster Abbey of the kingdom. There the dead were dragged out of their tombs with shouts, with laughter, with infernal pranks, which no people but the French could have committed, and which no writer of any other nation can describe. The best and the worst of their kings were exposed to equal indignities. No distinction was made as to sex, or virtue, or valour, or even military fame: if the embalmed remains or the mouldering bones were those of an aristocrat, they were cast forth, kicked about, or handled and examined, and exhibited with an apish curiosity scarcely less disgusting than the tiger ferocity, that other element of the national character. Marshal Turenne and Laura de Sades, in very different parts of France, were subjected to the same treatment: the great warrior, who lay in Saint-Denis, near the tomb of the Constable du Guesclin, was thrown out among kings and princes, warriors, and statesmen; the fair lady whom Petrarca has immortalised lay at Avignon, near the church where the poet had first seen her; and her embalmed body was dragged out, was stripped, and exhibited in the streets with the most brutal indignities.
The long processions of the sans-culottes, with the spoils of the abbey of Saint-Denis carried in eighteen carts; the deputations to the Convention of market-women and prostitutes dressed in priests' garments; the carmagnole dances that were danced, and the frowsy songs that were sung in the hall of the legislature, and the thousand other farces that were played during this heyday of Hebertism and Atheism, must all pass without further notice. If the outraged dead—even the dead who had been but a very short time in their graves —could have opened their eyes and ears, they must have felt that they were in a new world. By this time everything seemed revolutionised and changed — dress, language, manners, names of things, places, and persons. In the niches at the corners of streets, which had once been occupied by statues or pictures of the Madona, stood the hideous busts of Marat; the names of the streets and squares, palaces, and other public buildings, nay, of half of the towns and villages, were altered; and as for the people, they had abolished the use of Christian names, and had all become Brutuses, Catos, Mutius-Sceevolas, Anaxagorases, &c. &c.