Temple of Reason

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A Republican inscription on a former church: "Temple of the reason and philosophy" Temple de la raison et de la philosophie.jpg
A Republican inscription on a former church: "Temple of the reason and philosophy"

A Temple of Reason (French: Temple de la Raison) was, during the French Revolution, a temple for a new belief system created to replace Christianity: the Cult of Reason, which was based on the ideals of reason, virtue, and liberty. This "religion" was supposed to be universal and to spread the ideas of the revolution, summarized in its "Liberté, égalité, fraternité" motto, which was also inscribed on the Temples. According to the conservative critics of the French Revolution, within the Temple of Reason, "atheism was enthroned". [1] [2] English theologian Thomas Hartwell Horne and biblical scholar Samuel Davidson write that "churches were converted into 'temples of reason,' in which atheistical and licentious homilies were substituted for the proscribed service". [3]

French Revolution Revolution in France, 1789 to 1798

The French Revolution was a period of far-reaching social and political upheaval in France and its colonies beginning in 1789. The Revolution overthrew the monarchy, established a republic, catalyzed violent periods of political turmoil, and finally culminated in a dictatorship under Napoleon who brought many of its principles to areas he conquered in Western Europe and beyond. Inspired by liberal and radical ideas, the Revolution profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies while replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. Through the Revolutionary Wars, it unleashed a wave of global conflicts that extended from the Caribbean to the Middle East. Historians widely regard the Revolution as one of the most important events in human history.

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ is the merciful Son of God and savior of all people, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament. It is the world's largest religion with over 2.4 billion followers, with its followers affirming that Jesus is the Logos, whose coming as the Messiah was prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures and chronicled in the New Testament.

Cult of Reason religion

The Cult of Reason was France's first established state-sponsored atheistic religion, intended as a replacement for Roman Catholicism during the French Revolution. After holding sway for barely a year, in 1794 it was officially replaced by the rival Cult of the Supreme Being, promoted by Robespierre. Both cults were officially banned in 1801 by Napoleon Bonaparte with his Law on Cults of 18 Germinal, Year X.



The symbols of Christianity were covered up and they were replaced by the symbols of the Cult of Reason. In the Churches of Reason, there were specially created services that were meant to replace the Christian liturgy. [4]

Christian liturgy is a pattern for worship used by a Christian congregation or denomination on a regular basis. Although the term liturgy is used to mean public worship in general, the Byzantine Rite uses the term "Divine Liturgy" to denote the Eucharistic service.

Feast of Reason, at the Notre-Dame Fete de la Raison 1793.jpg
Feast of Reason, at the Notre-Dame

For instance, at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, on November 10, 1793, a special ritual was held for the "Feast of Reason": the nave had an improvised mountain on which stood a Greek temple dedicated to Philosophy and decorated with busts of philosophers. At the base of the mountain was located an altar dedicated to Reason, in front of which was located a torch of Truth. The ceremony included the crowd paying homage to an opera singer dressed in blue, white, red (the colours of the Republic), personifying the Goddess of Liberty. [4]


Personification is an anthropomorphic metaphor in which a thing or abstraction is represented as a person. The type of personification discussed here excludes passing literary effects such as "Shadows hold their breath", and covers cases where a personification appears as a character in literature, or a human figure in art. The technical term for this, since ancient Greece, is prosopopoeia. In the arts many things are commonly personified. These include numerous types of places, especially cities, countries and the four continents, elements of the natural world such as the months or Four Seasons, Four Elements, Four Winds, Five Senses, and abstractions such as virtues, especially the four cardinal virtues and sins, the nine Muses, or death.

Liberty (goddess) the personification of the concept of Liberty

Liberty is a loose term in English for personifications of the concept of liberty or of women depicted as the goddess, including Marianne, the national personification of France, and many others. Visually, these descend from images on ancient Roman coins of the Roman goddess Libertas, and various developments from the Renaissance onwards, of which the Dutch Maiden was probably the first, re-introducing the cap of liberty featured in many types of image, though not using the Phrygian cap style that became conventional.

Churches transformed into Temples of Reason

After Catholicism was banned in 1792, many of its churches were turned into Temples of Reason, including:

Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral in Paris, France

Notre-Dame de Paris, often referred to simply as Notre-Dame, is a medieval Catholic cathedral on the Île de la Cité in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. The cathedral is consecrated to the Virgin Mary and considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture. Its pioneering use of the rib vault and flying buttress, its enormous and colourful rose windows, as well as the naturalism and abundance of its sculptural decoration set it apart from the earlier Romanesque style. Major components that make Notre Dame stand out include one of the world's largest organs and its immense church bells.

Église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis Church in Paris, France

Église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis is a church on rue Saint-Antoine in the Marais quarter of Paris. The present building was constructed from 1627 to 1641 by the Jesuit architects Étienne Martellange and François Derand, on the orders of Louis XIII of France. It gives its name to Place Saint-Paul and its nearest Metro station, Saint-Paul.

Les Invalides complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, France

Les Invalides, formally the Hôtel national des Invalides, or also as Hôtel des Invalides, is a complex of buildings in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, France, containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building's original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l'Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d'Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the Dôme des Invalides, a large church, the tallest in Paris at a height of 107 meters, with the tombs of some of France's war heroes, most notably Napoleon.

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The dechristianization of France during the French Revolution is a conventional description of the results of a number of separate policies conducted by various governments of France between the start of the French Revolution in 1789 and the Concordat of 1801, forming the basis of the later and less radical laïcité policies. The goal of the campaign between 1793 and 1794 ranged from the public reclamation of the massive amounts of land, power, and money held by the Catholic Church in France to the termination of Catholic religious practice and of the religion itself. There has been much scholarly debate over whether the movement was popularly motivated.

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  1. The Literary Emporium. J.K. Wellman. 1846. p. 57. The name of the cathedral was thenceforth the Temple of Reason. Atheism was enthroned.
  2. Wellman's Miscellany. J. K. Wellman. 1870. p. 137. The name of the cathedral was thenceforth the Temple of Reason. Atheism was enthroned.
  3. Horne, Thomas Hartwell; Davidson, Samuel (21 November 2013). An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. Cambridge University Press. p. 30. ISBN   978-1-108-06772-0.
  4. 1 2 James A. Herrick, The Making of the New Spirituality, InterVarsity Press, 2004 ISBN   0-8308-3279-3, p. 75-76