There is a curious museum in the heart of Dijon, France: Musée d’Art Sacré – the Museum of Sacred Art. A more accurate name would be The Museum of Illegally Confiscated Church Property.Share
The building originally housed the city’s first community of Cistercian nuns, transferred from the city of Tart to Dijon in 1623. The convent was completed in 1708, and the nuns enjoyed approximately ninety years of order and tranquility – until the Jacobins arrived.
In the summer of 1792, 270 priests who had refused the oath to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy – which would have required them to renounce papal authority – were arrested in Dijon and deported. The same happened to other non-juring clergy throughout France, although a number of them remained in the country and went into hiding.Much like the Jesuits under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, these French priests went about in disguise, pretending to be street vendors, laborers, or patissiers, offering secret Masses to the faithful by night, in secluded woods or candle-lit attics. Those caught were imprisoned in the Conciergerie, where they continued their ministry in secret, offering the consolation of the sacraments to those awaiting the guillotine – until they in turn fell under the blade.The guillotine was not the only fate that awaited refractory priests. In Nantes, in two mass drownings intended to put down resistance in the Vendée, more than 200 priests were gathered onto barges that were set adrift on the Loire River, and then sunk. Only one, a Fr. Landeau, escaped and lived to tell the story of these atrocities. At least one account tells of a priest and nun stripped naked, bound together in an obscene posture, and thrown into the water. These spectacles were mockingly called “republican marriages.” Catholic laity in the hundreds – men, women, and children alike – met the same deaths.Clergy who swore the oath to follow the Civil Constitution – five bishops and half of all priests in France – went into schism. They were given comfortable positions and could serve in an official capacity as priests – as long as they remained loyal citoyens and did not criticize the Republic. These juring priests were permitted to minister to the imprisoned – but not every Catholic would accept their services.Marie-Antoinette, for instance, curtly refused to confess to a non-refractory priest. Instead, in a little-known account, a non-juring priest by the name of Abbé Magnin was smuggled into the queen’s cell the night before she died and heard her last confession. And he offered one final Mass for her before she was taken by cart in the morning to the place of execution. (Read more.)