Exhibition “Sacrilege!”  at the National Archives in Paris, when the sacred is attacked

Exhibition “Sacrilege!” at the National Archives in Paris, when the sacred is attacked

In its beautiful 18th century setting at the Hôtel de Soubise in Paris, the venerable institution of the National Archives does not hesitate to deal with the harshest news. This is evidenced by its new exhibition, with the challenging title: “Sacrilege! » From the start, a definition helps to see things clearly: it is an “attack on what is considered sacred by a society at a given moment”, while blasphemy is a verbal sacrilege.

The visitor then plunges into the darkness of a rich chronological journey from which exceptional documents emerge. We begin with the trial of Socrates, in the 4th century BC. BC, and… that of Jesus, crucified by the Roman civil authorities for having blasphemed according to the high priest Caiaphas represented in a very beautiful painting. “In both cases, it is above all a political crime,” notes Amable Sablon du Corail, co-commissioner: an attack on the cohesion of the community and the State. » In the Middle Ages, Christian kings sought to punish sacrilege in place of ecclesiastical authorities. The curators have selected a few high-profile trials as evidenced, for example, by an incredible roll of parchment 53 m long, dating from 1309 and bearing more than two hundred testimonies, including blasphemy, against Bishop Guichard of Troyes that King Philippe the Beautiful wants to confuse. “The sovereign demonstrates that he is the true defender of the faith and that the Church of France is under his supervision: this is the birth of Gallicanism. »

Absolutism strengthens

The exhibition explains how, from the 14th century, the person of the king became more and more sacred as absolutism strengthened. Rebellions are therefore sacrileges, crimes of lèse-majesté. The Damiens affair, tortured for having attempted to kill Louis XV, is detailed, including the executioner's invoice, but also his frock coat. “However, this royal sacredness will collapse during the Revolution,” observes Amable Sablon du Corail. This allowed the royal tombs at the abbey of Saint-Denis to be desecrated, before sanctifying the Nation, with a civic religion. » As we approach contemporary times, we understand that the State, whatever the regime, needs sacredness. The advent of secularism will complicate the message. A final part then explores the notion of sacrilege from the 19th to the 21st century, within the framework of freedom of expression and the plurality of beliefs. Complex but fascinating to decipher today's debates.

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