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French Revolution

Remains of hundreds of guillotined French Revolution figures found in chapel walls

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre, architect of the French Revolution was guillotined on 28 July 1794 during the Reign of Terror
Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre, architect of the French Revolution was guillotined on 28 July 1794 during the Reign of Terror © Wikimedia Commons
2 min

French experts have discovered the remains of as many as 500 people guillotined during the French Revolution in the walls of a listed building in Paris.

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The bodies of the famous guillotinés, who include Maximilien Robespierre – architect of the Reign of Terror – and French writer and feminist Olympe de Gouge, were always believed to have been moved to the Paris catacombs following their execution.

But after lengthy research archaeologists say the bones they found in the walls of the Chapelle Expiatoire in Paris’s VIII arrondissement, near the Grands Boulevards, tell a different story, as revealed in Le Parisien.

The chapel was built on the instructions of Louis XVIII in memory of his brother Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, both guillotined place de la Concorde in 1793.

Aymeric Peniguet de Stoutz, the chapel’s administrator, began investigating after he noticed anomalies in the walls between the columns of the lower chapel.

French authorities called in an archaeologist and forensic scientist, Philippe Charlier, who inserted a camera through the grouting between the stones and found bones in the cavities.

“The lower chapel contains four ossuaries made up of wooden boxes, most probably covered in leather, filled with human bones,” Charlier wrote in his report in 2018.

Philippe Charlier (left) discovered what are believed to be the bones of people guillotined during the Reign of Terror at the chapelle Expiatoire, built in memory of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Philippe Charlier (left) discovered what are believed to be the bones of people guillotined during the Reign of Terror at the chapelle Expiatoire, built in memory of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. © Centre des Monuments Nationaux.

“Until now, the chapel served only as a monument to the memory of the royal family, and now we have discovered that it’s also a necropolis of the Revolution,” de Stoutz enthused.

There are no skeletons as such. "It’s earth mixed with fragments of bone,” Charlier said, including a finger, a 10cm long fibula.

“I cried when the forensic pathologist told me he had seen human phalange bones in the photographs,” said de Stoutz.

Charlier said the discovery marked "a big step forward,” but that “extra research is needed and we hope to continue that in 2021".

The Chapelle Expiatoire, 29 rue Pasquier (VIII) is open to visitors. (Reservation required).

 

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