Amidst the hustle of the butte Montmartre, sits a statue with a gruesome backstory. The sculpture of François-Jean de la Barre, a young man murdered for his religious intolerance, also has its own history.
In 1765 Catholicism was both the state religion and the religion of the majority of France. In the town of Abbeville a crucifix attached to a bridge was vandalised; the Bishop of Amiens rallied his community to find the culprits. This soon led to an accusation that three young men had not removed their hats when a Chorpus Christi procession went by. It was alleged they had committed other blasphemies, such as signing impious songs, spitting on religious images and defecating on a crucifix.
Subsequently, two of the men were arrested. During the course of the inquiry, one of the men, 21-year old François-Jean de la Barre, had his bedroom searched. Copies of prohibited books were found in his room, including Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary. Owning the book was seen as la Barre’s pretext for the crime, and he was judged guilty.
On 20 February 1766, the judges declared la Barre’s behaviour to be worthy of the statutory penalty for blasphemy. La Barre was sentenced to wear a sign reading “impious one” and then his tongue was cut out. He was later decapitated before his head was burnt.
Following the revolution, the National Convention overturned the verdict in 1792.
In 1897, a group of French Freemasons organised the first statute of la Barre in front of the Sacré-Cœur. The intention was for the statue to be an ‘antidote to the poison’ of the church, on land wrongfully given to the archdiocese. In 1906, the statue was unrelieved in front of a crowd of 25,000 people.
In 1926, the statue was moved from its location at the entrance of the basilica and placed in Square Nadar. The statue was then toppled under orders from the Vichy state and melted down for being anti-religious in 1941. It would take over a half a century before the statue was finally rebuilt.
In 2001, the Paris City Council erected a new statue of the Chevalier de la Barre in Square Nadar. Behind the basilica there is a street, Rue du Chevalier de La Barre, named after him.
Our guests can visit the statue on foot. The butte Montmartre is only a 5 minute walk from the hostel Book with us now and discover Montmartre on your doorstep!