The Sacred Heart is there for the duration. No one is proposing that it be demolished. The arguments defended by de Fleury have lost almost all of their force. The reactionaries in the Catholic hierarchy are still trying to exercise their power and influence, but their power to influence the lives of individuals is steadily declining. The offense it can represent is no longer tied to a daily experience of oppression.
This is not the case if you are young, Black, and find yourself with a policeman sizing you up for an unnecessary check and search. Or if your name or your clothes betray Muslim origins and you are looking for an apartment to rent or a job to secure. These injustices, deeply rooted in modern French life, remind their targets that the history represented by the statues of the protagonists who disappeared from slavery and colonialism still has its knee on its neck.
The last statues to fall
The last fallen statues were not in mainland France, but in a former colony, now a department of France, the West Indian island of Martinique. One that went towards the end of July was the statue of Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc, credited with being the “founder” of the French slave colony in 1635. Slavery was finally abolished there in 1848, but the statue of Esnambuc was erected in 1935.
Another who went was Napoleon Bonaparte’s Josephine, his first Empress. She was born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie in 1763 in the Martinique sugar plantation that her family owned and which was then exploited by more than 200 slaves. Much is learned about why she should have been long removed from the disgusting – no, deceptive – way AFP, France’s leading news agency, reported she was “from Martinique where her family owned. an agricultural holding ”.
France has real difficulties in dealing with its history of colonial slavery, brigandage and plunder. President Macron declared on July 14: “The Republic will not erase any name. He will not knock over any statue. His point of view was mentioned by Brigitte Macron who told us during a radio interview just before: “We must not rewrite history as we do with statues. It is very important not to renounce history, not to renounce our culture. . . I live resolutely in the present. . . The future can be troubling. But the future with Emmanuel is not.
Surely anyone reading this sort of thing has to ask themselves a question or two. Who does the rewrite? Those who get rid of a statue of a human monster, guilty of crimes against humanity on a scale that my imagination is not capable of conceiving, but whose statue praises him as a great French hero? Those who erase the fact that Josephine came from a slave plantation and who leave out the fact that the dictator she married restored slavery in France and its colonies and tried to re-impose it on Haiti in price of a terrible human cost? And what the hell does she mean by “our” culture?
All human societies exist and have existed in a state of diversity. Occasionally, it is a matter of personal choice or preference. More often than not, these are choices imposed, with varying degrees of cruelty, wickedness, and self-interest to the greatest number by a few. Statues are rare, with rare exceptions.
Statues of a few
The latest 2020 version of the Heritage Guide in France by the Government’s National Monuments Center could help explain the thinking of Brigitte Macron. As it has a link with Napoleon, the birthplace of Joséphine, it is naturally today an important part of this history of France that should neither be rewritten nor given up. “It looks like a small farm in a Norman orchard with its dormer windows, its tiled roof and its solid stone walls” is the description that the guide gives from La Pagerie on page 909.
Not a word in the entire entry on the reason for his presence, on what prompted Esnambuc to plant the flag of the King of France there and to force African slaves to come to the island, not even the most a little nod to remind us how these slaves of La Pagerie toiled, suffered and died to keep the inhabitants of this fake Norman farm in the comfort they considered their birthright.
“Emmanuel” plays with the history of France as he plays with the forces he tries to manipulate for this future that Brigitte is eager to share. He draws and chooses according to his political needs of the moment. He wants to keep the statue of Colbert, the administrator of Louis XIV, the 17th century Sun King, and whose name is associated with the Code Black, the code of slavery, which allowed Josephine’s parents to brutalize human beings on their “farm”. This suits his current turn to the right.
It was the same this summer with its posture on the Great War of 1914-1918 and the Second World War, conflicts which left commemorative monuments in all the municipalities of the country, commemorative monuments where some of them play a leading role in the lists of names sometimes telling all the men of a family consumed in the trenches of Flanders.
The one for which I have a particular affection is the war memorial in the village of Cotignac in the Var, a department on the Mediterranean shores of France.
It depicts a French hairy or ordinary infantry soldier in his coat, boots and fleeces, with his backpack, basin, water bottle, rifle and bayonet on his back, looking out from the trench in which he is standing. But under his helmet and behind his large mustache, his gaze is filled with worry, even fear. Without a doubt, exactly the look on the faces of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, dragged from all parts of the world, just before an officer’s shrill whistle orders them to take the plunge and kill them. It makes a real memorial, a reminder of what it was like to human beings less fortunate than the rest of us. The model for the statue was a local man, a grandfather, who knew from personal experience what sacrifice and war meant.
The commune of Cotignac
In the 15th and 16th centuries, like many towns and villages in present-day France, Cotignac acquired a certain mastery of its own affairs. A history of the commune published in 1860 (the only one that I could find) quotes a contract of 1521 between the Lord who had inherited the feudal rights over the village and “the community»Represented by 172 heads of families. This largely finalized the transfer of local power to the town council. The oldest minutes of the council date from 1558. It is said that the meeting of that year was held in the beautiful masonry building which is still today the town hall of the village.
One of the reasons why the town was able to assert its independence was the income of Catholic pilgrims coming to visit a chapel at the place where a local butcher had a vision of the Virgin Mary in 1519. The pilgrims still come to Cotignac to make the devotional walk. until the chapel, raised on a promontory offering a grandiose panorama of green Provence.
One hundred and eighteen years later, in 1637, Louis XIV had not yet been conceived despite 23 years of trial by his parents, Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. It threatened disaster for the ruling dynasty. Fortunately, the Virgin Mary has reappeared. A Parisian monk saw her while he was praying and she said there would be good news soon. As proof, she told him about a painting behind the altar in this Cotignac chapel.
The court sent a message to the village. Was the painting really as it appeared in the vision? It was! The Queen felt something move and the Sun King was on his way. When he was six, his mother sent the monk to the chapel to install another painting she had commissioned from Louis handing over his crown to the Virgin Mary. In 1660, when he was 21, Louis decided it was time to go there in person.
It is panic in Cotignac when the town learns that he and his entourage have arrived in Aix-en-Provence. The minutes of a January 20 meeting report that the board was told their treasury “has no money” – they were defeated. By confiscating grain from some late-paying farmers, they raised enough money to send a gift of 30 capons, ten partridges and 24 large boxes of prunes.
Then, on February 8, they learned that the whole court cavalcade would come to the chapel – royal carriages, carts with everything needed for a royal life, the same to accompany aristocrats and courtiers, a detachment of musketeers and 40 gendarmes. (yes, they were already there). The town had to repair the road to Brignoles, nearly 20 miles in all, so that this small army of privileges and power could get to the chapel, as the minutes report, “without being exhausted or shaken”. Those who had to do this kind of work finished it in about ten days and the Sun King arrived at the chapel on February 21.
All he left in thanks for their efforts was a blue ribbon that he put at the feet of a statue of the Virgin Mary. The commune spent months paying off road debt, food for horses, food for the court, courtiers and the military. Louis spent the rest of his life cementing in place an absolute monarchy reinforced by an absolutist Catholic faith.
Remembering the chapel forever linked to the miracle of his birth, Louis sent Cotignac a copy of his marriage contract with the daughter of the King of Spain accompanied by the Treaty of the Pyrenees which ended a quarter of a century of war between the two crowns. The documents were beautifully bound in leather with a portrait of Louis and the new queen.