Charenton Temple: Overview

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The First Temple: A Place of Worship East of Paris

The Edict of Nantes (1598) prohibited the building of Protestant temples in Paris, and within five leagues [about ten miles] from the city. Therefore Parisians eager to hear the "sermons" went to the temple of Grigny by carriage, or by horse-drawn barge after boarding at Grève or at the bridge of la Tournelle (the Small tower). Later they went to the temple at Ablon. Jacques II Androët du Cerceau, architect of the Castle of Fontainebleau, had built a first temple in Ablon - in the vicinity of Fontainebleau.


Bridge, Mill and Church at Charenton
along the Marne River at its confluence with the Seine

After 1606 the Parisians were finally allowed to build a temple at Charenton, east of Paris, having received the express permission of the king. Some pointed out to king Henri IV that Charenton was closer than the stipulated five leagues, but he retorted, says one, that from now on "Charenton will be regarded as being five leagues from Paris". In 1607 Androuët du Cerceau used the Ablon materials once more to build the Charenton temple.

Enlarge Map

Embarking on Sunday morning at the point of the île de la Cité (island of the City), behind the Notre-Dame, worshippers sang psalms along the way after they had gone beyond the suburbs. Others went there on foot via the Saint-Anthony gate and the street of Charenton. In the suburbs they were sometimes the object of insults and stones that were hurled at them.

(Click to enlarge.)

Then in 1621 this first temple of Charenton was burned down following a riot of anti-heretical fury. Two years later Salomon de Brosse (Jacques Androuët du Cerceau's nephew) was in charge of its reconstruction.

Grounds: 1606-1621

The Second Temple

In 1623 a second temple was built within a few hundred meters of the first. It was conceived by the architect Solomon de Brosse, also a Protestant. It was a huge edifice that could seat 4,000 worshippers making it the largest temple in France.

Charenton Temple - Etching by Mariette
(Click to enlarge.)

Aerial Plan of Charenton Grounds

Following a basilica-type plan, the edifice was 33m long and 19.50m high, with a tiled pavilion roof and a small turret at one end. The light streamed in through 18 windows, 1.3m by 1m, topped with two rows of dormer windows.

(Alternate View)

Inside, galleries supported by 20 pillars increased the seating capacity of the edifice. A large staircase in each corner allowed access to the galleries. The pulpit was one third of the way in the nave. The ceiling featured the Tablets of the Law, in gold on a blue background. The doors featured biblical texts.

Plan of Charenton Temple

Grounds: 1623-1685

The Crommelin Connection

Charenton was known to several of our ancestors. Charles Crommelin was baptized there in 1676 presumeably when Daniel, his father, was living in Paris and working as a banker. Also Adrien Crommelin, the last of the children of Jean Crommelin and Marie De Sémery, married Susanne Doublet on August 11, 1641 at Charenton.

Then in 1669 Jeanne Crommelin (the daughter of Adrien Crommelin and Susanne Doublet) married François Ammonet in Paris, 1669. They lived in Paris where they manufactured French lace and became very wealthy. They fled in 1681 to London foreseeing the persecution. The brother of François Ammonet, an elder at the Protestant Temple of Charenton, was imprisoned in the Bastille for his convictions along with his wife 1686-87.

Destruction of the Temple

Charenton Temple Demolition, November 1685

At the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, the Charenton temple was demolished and levelled. Its site became a symbol for the Parisian community which made it famous as the ideal type of Reformed temple. The wonderful Psalter of the Charenton temple was spared and placed in the Briçonnet diocese library in Meaux (about 100 km East of Paris).

Some Catholic dignitaries were enthralled by its destruction. On the 27th of January 1687 Abbot Talemand declared at the Académie Française: "Blessed ruins, the most beautiful trophy France has ever seen. Arches of triumph and statues honouring the king will not elevate him above this heretic temple brought down by his piety" [Heureuses ruines qui sont le plus beau trophée que la France ait jamais vu. Les arcs de triomphe et les statues élevées à la gloire du roi ne la porteront pas plus haut que ce temple de l'hérésie abattu par sa piété].

A stele now marks its site in what is now the commune of Saint-Maurice, at the north-eastern angle of the streets of the Maréchal Leclerc and Val-d'Osne, opposite the Moulin de la Chaussée. The former Charenton cemetery is located between the town hall and the hospital of Saint-Maurice.

Grounds: Around 1740

Charenton Cemetery: An Archaelogical Discovery

Before 1598 there were bitter disputes between Catholics and Protestants over the issue of cemeteries, and desecrations were common as "heretics" were exhumed on both sides. After the horrors of the wars of religion, the Edict of Nantes promulgated by Henri IV established a coexistence of the catholics and Protestants, restoring to the latter the freedom to worship at specific locations, however it imposed separate cemeteries for them with parochial cemeteries in the cities being reserved only for catholics.

In 2005 French archaeologists have for the first time undertaken the study of a Protestant cemetery, in Charenton (the Valley-of-Marne), on grounds that have remained void of any construction since the XVII century when two temples had risen on this site. They estimate that more than one hundred skeletons must be on this site with a surface area of 900m2 which was to be excavated over 40 days with four anthropologists of the INRAP. The team hoped to better understand, thanks to this discovery, what the funerary rites of the Protestants were in the XVIIème century, and how they differed from that of catholics.

It is the vestiges of the first temple which the person in charge of the building site, Jean-Yves Dufour, hoped to discover on the ground of the cemetery which was excavated. Four column bases were uncovered but the stones still needed to be authenticated.

After the first temple was burned down in sectarian strife in 1621, the second temple of Charenton, built in 1623 with a seating capacity of 4000, became the largest in France, and its cemetery was the place where Parisian Protestants were obliged to bury their dead. The Edict of Nantes prohibited the 12,000 huguenots in the capital city to build places of worship and to be buried within city limits so Charenton was the ideal location. The temple, built along the shore of the Marne River in the south-east of Paris, was accessible to the faithful by boats.

Today it is the first Protestant cemetery ever studied. Until now archaeology has never been interested in the places of burial of those of the RPR "alleged reformed religion". The INRAP (National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research) in France now seeks to catalog their peculiarities with the assistance of Protestant historian, Marianne Carbonnier-Burkard.

An examination of the tombs above ground, and confirmed by the excavations, indicate an absence of any ritual that could cause scandal at the time, she explains. This sobriety was dictated by the Edict of Nantes which obliged the Protestants to bury their dead during the night, without any funeral procession and under the watchful eye of an archer in order to curb any riot or lawlessness. But this plain funeral was also wanted by the Protestants themselves to show a distinction from the catholic's rites for their dead. Thus there were no prayers for the deceased, no graveside preaching, and not even an inscribed marker or flowers. The world of the dead was completely separate from that of the living. At that time the cemetery was made to resemble a cherry orchard.

Their distinctives with regard to death marked a 'cultural revolution' between the two religious communities. Reformed doctrines reject the idea of Purgatory, the mass, the worship of saints, and the use of relics. Jean Calvin recommended an "honest" funeral, i.e. one that is dignified but without the trappings of superstitious pretensions: no tombstone, no preaching at the gravesite, no offerings or prayers for the deceased. The catholics, on the other hand, practised a worship of the dead and viewed cemeteries as sacred places. Neither do the archaeologists find any personal belongings. The Protestants opposed the popular belief that the dead carried objects with them into paradise. Thus the skeletons reveal only some rings which the deceased people wore in everyday life.

But some elements do not match the written texts of the time. Why are all the bodies found up to now (around fifty), except for some children, facing east? Is this to see Jerusalem at the moment of resurrection? Marianne Carbonnier-Burkard does not have an answer. Another peculiarity is that the cemetery was contiguous to the temple. Whereas the Protestants did not attach any religious significance to the building itself, contrary to the catholics, "It likely was for reasons of topography; they simply had no other option", suggests Marianne Carbonnier-Burkard.

Besides being carefully aligned in a certain direction, the bodies' last incongruity is that they are mixed. The skeletons are superimposed and tight one against the other without reference to sex, whereas catholics tended to separate the tombs of men and women. But between these aligned bodies there is no lane or alley which allows visitors to circulate.

The archaeologists expect to find at least one hundred bodies, perhaps many more. The excavations at Charenton could also shed some light on the social conditions of the XVII century. This cemetery accomodated people of modest means while another Protestant cemetery, a few hundred meters away and today covered over by buildings, was reserved for people of the middle-class and aristocracy.

The remains of the young people may be able to reveal much about the state of hygiene and health at the time - things like rickets in children, detectable by the curve of their legs, or certain pronounced scolioses. In their research the anthropologists will undoubtedly find traces of the plague, the great plague of the century. Another indicator which reveals the state of poverty of the people buried there is that the archaeologists find very little wood in the tombs. Each body did not have its own coffin. Burial was generally carried out using a linen shroud. This is confirmed by the presence of many pins.

In November of 1865, the year that the Edict of Nantes was revoked, the temple at Charenton was demolished and Parisian Protestants no longer had any official place to bury their dead. Burials were then performed in secret, in particular cellars or gardens.

This cemetery was taken over by the convent sisters of Val-d'Osne who preserved its fruit trees and the appearance of an orchard. Until recently the area was still being used as a greenhouse. After the excavations are complete in July 2005, a house for senior citizens will rise on the terrain but it will be built on piles in order to keep the grounds intact.

Grounds: 1906

Temple of Charenton emroidery

Virtual Museum of French Protestantism
Priscille Muller-Lafitte and Sylvie Briet

With more than 1,800 collaborators and researchers INRAP is the largest French archaeological organisation and one of the foremost in Europe. A public research establishment, it carries out most of the archaeological evaluations and excavations in France. Within the framework of national and regional planning policy, it acts on behalf of private and public property developers (local and regional authorities, Motorway companies, French railroad system, etc.). More that 2,500 excavation sites are undertaken each year in mainland France and in the D.O.M. (French overseas departments).

Site Director: Jean-Yves Dufour, INRAP
Preventive Archaeology Operator: INRAP
Curation: Regional Archaeological Service (Drac Île-de-France)
Developer: Sogea Construction
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