Friday, 19 May 2006

The Martyrs of Paris I: Archbishop Affre

Denis-Auguste Affre (1793-1848) is little known in English-speaking lands, but he was the first of two Archbishops of Paris to have lost their lives at the hands of nineteenth century revolutionaries.

Affre was only Archbishop briefly, between 1840 and 1848. Trained in the Sulpician tradition, he had great plans to implement educational and social reform, and in 1845 established the Ecole des Carmes, which later evolved into the Institut Catholique de Paris in 1875.

1848 was a year of revolution in many European countries. In France King Louis-Philippe abdicated and fled to England, and the 'Second Republic' was declared. Archbishop Affre initially hoped that this would lead to improvement in the conditions of workers and also guarantee religious freedom - he even blessed the flag of the National Guard, sang a Te Deum and formally presented the support of the clergy to Jacques-Charles Dupont de l'Eure, president of the provisional government.

In June the workers, dissatisfied with the results of the revolutrion, turned against the Government and there was a bloody conflict between the army and the insurgents. The Archbishop believed that his presence on the barricades would bring about a truce. Despite the warnings of senior officials such as General Cavaignac, he went into the streets on 27 June, dressed in his episcopal robes, and mounted the barricade in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. 'My life is of little value,' he said, 'I will gladly risk it.' He held a green branch as a sign of peace, which can be seen in his monument (above). He only managed to say a few words when some shots were heard and, thinking that they had been betrayed, the insurgents panicked and opened fire on the National Guard. The Archbishop fell in the cross-fire and was taken to his palace, where he died from his wounds.

He was remembered with great affection and his funeral on 7 July was a huge event. Evidence of his 'cult' can be seen in various 'relics' kept in the Treasury of Notre Dame - including his pocket watch, Breviary and Pontificale (see picture below). However, according to the new guidelines presented by Benedict XVI, it can hardly be said that he was a 'martyr', even though he died violently.


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