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article imageUp to 500 guillotine victims found in walls of French monument

By Karen Graham     Jun 29, 2020 in Science
Paris - The administrator of a historic chapel in France noticed the walls were looking odd in places, and he called in an archaeologist to take a professional look. The reason for the anomalies is a dark one, dating back to the French Revolution.
Chapelle expiatoire is located in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, France, and was commissioned in 1814 by Louis XVIII. After 10 years of construction, the chapel was inaugurated in 1826 in the presence of King Charles X. There is an inscription above the entrance, which reads (translated):
"King Louis XVIII raised this monument to consecrate the place where the mortal remains of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette, transferred on 21 January 1815 to the royal tomb of Saint-Denis, reposed for 21 years. It was finished during the second year of the reign of Charles X, year of grace 1826."
And while the late neoclassical religious building may seem uncompromising, it took the detective work of Aymeric Peniguet de Stoutz, the chapel’s administrator, to find the secrets the historic monument was hiding.
Façade de la Chapelle Expiatoire - Paris
Façade de la Chapelle Expiatoire - Paris
Annick314 (CC BY 3.0)
The administrator noticed curious anomalies in the walls between the columns of the lower chapel, and not wanting to damage the structural integrity of the building, notified the French authorities who called in an archaeologist, who inserted a camera through the stones in the walls.
In his report, archaeologist Philippe Charlier confirmed Peniguet de Stoutz’s hypothesis: “The lower chapel contains four ossuaries made of wooden boxes, probably stretched out with leather, filled with human bones,” he wrote. “There is earth mixed with fragments of bones.”
A necropolis of the revolution
"Until now, the chapel served only as a monument to the memory of the royal family, but we have just discovered that it is also a necropolis of the revolution,” says Stoutz. “I cried when the forensic pathologist assured me he had seen human phalange [feet and hand] bones in the photographs,” he added, reports The Guardian.
Execution of Louis XVI in what is now the Place de la Concorde  facing the empty pedestal where the ...
Execution of Louis XVI in what is now the Place de la Concorde, facing the empty pedestal where the statue of his grandfather, Louis XV, had stood.
Bibliothèque nationale de France
According to the accepted historical account, the bodies of famous guillotinés, including Louis XV’s mistress Madame du Barry, Olympe de Gouges, and Maximilien Robespierre, the revolutionary architect of the Reign of Terror, were moved to the network of catacombs under the city.
Maximilien de Robespierre's arrest and execution in 1794 marked the end of the Reign of Terror, during which Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette were beheaded in what is now the Place de la Concorde.
Here is where some detective work came into play. Construction of the chapel began in 1815 and took 10 years to complete. The structure was built on the site of the old Madeleine cemetery, not far from the Place de la Révolution, also where the guillotine was frequently used.
Catacombs of Paris
Catacombs of Paris
Rijin (CC BY-SA 4.0)
The cemetery closed in 1794 when it reportedly ran out of space. It was one of four designated places where victims of the guillotine were disposed of. In 1814, after becoming king, Louis XVIII had the remains of his brother Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette disinterred and moved to Saint-Denis Basilica and commissioned the new chapel in their memory.
According to historical accounts, Louis XVIII ordered that “no earth saturated with victims [of the revolution] be moved from the place for the building of the work." So historians believed that the remains of 500 mostly aristocratic victims of the revolution, and out-of-favor revolutionaries like Robespierre, were transferred to another cemetery, then to the catacombs, where a plaque marks their reburial.
Needless to say, Stoutz has requested that further research is warranted, and so this will be an interesting story to follow.
More about Chapelle expiatoire, French revolution, Guillotine, remains behind walls, Archaeology
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