Theses Doctoral

Architecture and Popular Religion: French Pilgrimage Churches of the Nineteenth Century

Basciano, Jessica Ruth

Architecture was essential to the radical transformation of pilgrimage by the Catholic clergy in nineteenth-century France. To show how pilgrimage churches clericalized and modernized the devotions centered on sacred sites, this dissertation analyzes three important examples: Jacques-Eugène Barthélemy's Basilica of Notre-Dame de Bonsecours in Rouen (1840-44), Hippolyte Durand's Basilica of the Immaculée-Conception at Lourdes (1862-72), and Victor Laloux's Basilica of Saint-Martin in Tours (1886-1925). In the process, this study reveals the Catholic context of nineteenth-century French ecclesiastical architecture. Pilgrimage churches were paid for by the private donations of Catholics and their construction was overseen by priests: they were less determined by the government architectural bureaucracy than other churches.

Notre-Dame de Bonsecours is a landmark of the beginning of the Gothic and Marian revivals during the July Monarchy. Influenced by Catholic authors and architects, the parish priest chose to give the basilica a thirteenth-century style, and a coordinated decoration that put Bonsecours at the forefront of the regeneration of religious art. In the midst of rapid industrialization, he and the donors sought to recreate an ideal medieval social order structured according to Christian principles. The Basilica of the Immaculée-Conception demonstrates the endurance of Catholic theories of the Gothic in the Second Empire, as well as a new preoccupation with economical church construction. The basilica evoked both twelfth-century churches and nineteenth-century mass production, thereby complementing the clergy's promotion of the pilgrimage to Lourdes as a continuation of medieval traditions and a modern spectacle. Erected above the grotto of the apparitions, the basilica reinforced the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and its ultramontane and legitimist implications. In contrast, the Basilica of Saint-Martin is proof of the influence on the clergy of Christian archaeology. A liberal bishop chose to evoke the fifth-century church that had stood on the site of Martin's tomb, in opposition to an intransigent lay group that wanted to rebuild the eleventh-century church that had stood there. While the lay project expressed a counter-revolutionary narrative of expiation, the built church connoted early Christianity and reflected a shift among the faithful towards accepting the Republic. This dissertation argues that, owing to their distinctive patronage model, pilgrimage churches expressed more clearly than other churches the evolving politics of French Catholicism.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Bergdoll, Barry George
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 2, 2014