Stasi surveillance & subcultures convene in the history of Leipzig
St. Joseph des Carmes in Paris (photograph by Oderik/Wikimedia)
The motto liberté, égalité, fraternité is all over Paris, from the walls of the Panthéon to the Hôtel de Ville. Yet that famous phrase of "liberty, equality, fraternity" omits a few words that were often included during the French Revolution: “ou la morte” — "or death."
Put that way, it might remind you of the Reign of Terror that swept through the ideals of the Revolution. But without it, the city’s violent history hides in plain sight. Despite reminders of the Revolution nearly everywhere you look, from mass graves from the guillotine at the Cimetière de Picpus to the stones of the Bastille reconstructed as the Pont de la Concorde, the one thing that can be hard to fathom in modern-day Paris, is the sheer terror of The Terror.
Marie Antoinette's recreated cell at the Conciergerie (photograph by André Lage Freitas/Wikimedia)
It’s perhaps most noticeably absent in Marie Antoinette’s cell at the Conciergerie. To Americans like me, the name alone suggests the Four Seasons instead of death row. In her cell, a mannequin serves as a stand-in for the queen, but she’s frozen in time, sitting in front of a tiny altar with her head eternally attached to her neck. It’s difficult to imagine the panic and dread she must of felt beneath her dignified façade on the way to the scaffold, but then again, being sympathetic and well-understood was never Marie Antoinette’s strong suit. Even the original site of the guillotine that decapitated her doesn’t inspire much fear today, transformed into the Place de la Concorde with its enchanting, illuminated obelisk.
But there’s at least one place where the violence of the French Revolution is still palpable. Every Saturday at 3 pm, you can take a guided tour of the crypt beneath St. Joseph des Carmes. There you can see the battered remains and bloodstains of some lesser-known victims of The Terror — a group collectively known as the martyrs of September.
The remains of the Martyrs of September (photograph © Marie-Christine Pénin/tombes-sepultures.com)
The martyrs were a group of priests, seminarians, bishops, and, most famously, the Archbishop of Arles. They were rounded up by a mob of sans-culottes and imprisoned in the convent near St. Joseph's after refusing to take an oath that undermined papal authority. The mob’s punishment for this transgression was quick and especially brutal. They began killing their prisoners on September 2, 1792, when they bashed in the Archbishop’s head, stabbed him, and trampled the body.