Friday, February 5, 2010

Mass at Saint Denis

Eleanor Beardsley of NPR was present at a requiem Mass for King Louis XVI last month at the Basilica of Saint Denis in Paris. One can listen to or read the following transcript. (Via Seat of Wisdom)

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Every January the Royalists of France, or is it that the Royalists de France, gather to mark the date when King Louis XVI was beheaded. His death marked the beginning of the French Republic. Yet many who remember the kings death hope that France will some day restore the monarchy.

Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.

(Soundbite of music)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Organ music thunders through the stone cavernous basilica of Saint Denis on the northern outskirts of Paris. More than 800 people have gathered here, not just to pay homage to King Louis XVI, but to mourn the death of the French monarchy. Saint Denis is the necropolis of the French royal family. More than 50 monarchs, including Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, are buried here.

Unidentified Man #1: (Latin spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The mass is in Latin. The priest swings a censer of incense on a chain. The somber service in this stone-cold Seventh century church resonates with regret for a France that lived 16 centuries in the Catholic monarchy. The priest describes the day it all came to an end when Louis XVI was led to the guillotine.

Unidentified Man #2: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: They came at night with their torches and clubs, he says, to carry out the most abominable of sacrileges. Harold Hyman, a long time journalist who takes a special interest in the French Royalists, says the group has no chance of bringing back the monarchy.

Mr. HAROLD HYMAN (Franco-American Journalist): So they take this weird political posture - a sort of anti-progress protest against the modern world and mass culture and television and American influence, and this is, I think, what unites them all.

BEARDSLEY: Royalists say the French Revolution was ruthless, not glorious, and that Louis XVI was a progressive king with vision. After all, he did send his general, the Marquis de Lafayette, to help some unruly colonists throw off their British oppressors. Retiree Marie-Noelle Erre(ph) explains why shes a monarchist.

Ms. MARIE-NOELLE ERRE (Royalist): Its the monarchy that built the country. If it hadnt been for the revolution, there would have been an evolution with time. Beside that, King Louis XVI was a very good king.

BEARDSLEY: The Royalists are deeply divided over who is the legitimate successor to the French throne. But that question is not pertinent, for now anyway, says Dominique Emele(ph), the director of the Alliance Royale, the monarchist political party. The Royalists have practically no political support and no members in parliament, but Emele believes that one day the Party will be able to convince the French to restore a constitutional monarchy.

Mr. DOMINIQUE EMELE (Alliance Royale): (Through translator) One of the biggest problems in France today is that our president is the head of a political party. So he doesnt represent all the French. Only a king can truly represent the people, unify the nation, and solve the long-term problems of France.

(Soundbite of music)

BEARDSLEY: Back at the Basilica of Saint Denis, the mass closes with a requiem. The church where Joan of Arc once prayed now lies in the middle of a gritty immigrant suburb. Sixty five-year-old Michel Simoneaux(ph) emerges from the 18th century atmosphere inside the Basilica and comes face to face with modern day France.

Mr. MICHEL SIMONEAUX: (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: The revolution was a cataclysm from which France will never recover, Simoneaux says. Everything we admire is from before the revolution. Just look at this marvelous cathedral, and look at this town. Its the symbol of everything France has become.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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8 comments:

tubbs said...

It's a pity MA had to be memorialized in a costume not of her era (nor of her taste or modesty). Because I've read of her tragic fate over the years - I've no desire to ever visit that city again. Yet St. Denis is one place I would make a pilgrimage to - and then I would flee that city to tour Brittany and Normandy.

EM, is it true that no earthly remains of the French kings were spared when St.Denis was sacked by the mob?...only the sepulchers etc., for their artistic value?

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, that is true, although I think there may be a few bones left from Carolingian times down in the deepest, darkest part of the crypt. My husband and I went down there and there are acres of tombs. Of course, the members of the royal family who died during the Restoration are buried at Saint Denis, such as the Duc de Berry and his two oldest legitimate children. And Louis and Antoinette are there.

It is a glorious place. The oriflamme is in the apse. St. Joan prayed before the altar and left her sword as a votive offering, for the name of Saint Denis was the battle-cry of France....

Christina said...

Thanks for the hat tip, Elena! This was such a fascinating piece. It was fairly good once they got away from the sneering journalist. I don't consider "anti-progress" to be as much of an insult as some people mean it to be. The "progress" of the twentieth century brought us Fascism and Communism, and I'm not sure the "progress" of the twenty-first will be much better.

I hadn't realized that the royal graves at Saint-Denis were desecrated. How truly awful and barbaric.

MadMonarchist said...

The attitudes of these "journalists" really make me -well, mad! Liberal stuff-shirts saying "they take this weird political posture - a sort of anti-progress". So I guess they see cutting off heads by the tens of thousands and years of ruinous warfare across the world was "progress"?! And then this hogwash about how "Royalists say the French Revolution was ruthless, not glorious". Where is the dispassionate observation of the facts? If chopping off the heads of innocent people, starving the dauphin to death, turning neighbor against neighbor, genocide in the royalist areas, massacres so horrible even the traitors called it the 'Reign of Terror' -if all that is still considered "glorious" by these twits, what it the name of Shaka Zulu would it take to make them call a revolution "ruthless"?!

The persistent blindness on this subject, even by people who seem otherwise half-decent, is something I will never understand. It frustrates me beyond words.

lara77 said...

Mad Monarchist explained so very well the hypocrisy of the French Revolution. What glory? Death, desecration, depravity and destruction. France was never the same after the murder of King Louis XVI; the nation was always divided. The five republics and two Corsican empires only brought more violence, defeat and occupation to the nation.A government is only as good as its people? Then maybe the French deserve their republic after all.

Matterhorn said...

It's amazing, the way, in the modern West, we like to think of ourselves as a humane and sensitive society, yet outrage at atrocities is often selective. For instance, while condemning Hitler as absolute evil, people will say that Stalin, well, "had his reasons" for what he did. The Terror in general, and the deaths of the King and Queen in particular, are other prominent instances of crimes either being rationalized as a means to some "greater good," or, at any rate, being spoken of in a rather dismissive and callous manner.

Alexandra said...

"If it hadn't been for the revolution, there would have been an evolution with time."

That's the crux...it was cruelty and violence - pure sin.

Aron said...

I read that they gathered up what bones and remains they could after the Restoration--something about said remnants having been dumped in some sort of mass ditch outside of the Cathedral--and re-interring them somewhere in St. Dennis. Although the revolution disturbs me greatly for it's treatment of the living, something in me cringes and turns away at the thought that they could so disturb the dead. I just don't understand such an attitude.