F. Patrick Butler

Book II- Rousseau

Book II- Rousseau

"I am so disgusted with the society of my fellow men, and my dealings with them, that honor alone keeps me here; should I ever achieve my dearest wish and be free from debt, I would not be seen in Paris for more than twenty-four hours afterwards."

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Chapter 1: The train to Paris

Chapter 1:  The train to Paris

During a dreary night of drizzle and fog in May 1814, the famous Panthéon mausoleum (Cathedral of St. Genevieve) was broken into by determined grave robbers. Two coffins of France's most cherished philosophers were pried open and robbed of their hallowed remains. The musty, decaying bodies of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire were roughly removed, shoved into coarse bags by political terrorists and unceremoniously dumped into the sewers of Paris, or perhaps buried somewhere near the River Seine. According to the confidential files of the Sūreté (the special investigations division of the Paris police), members of the Ultra Conservative Monarchist party were responsible for this heinous political act, but no one knows for sure. What is known is that their pathetic attempt to expunge the public memory of these famous spokesmen for the rights of man was a complete failure. Democracy was already born, and burning brightly on two continents.

Today, the magnificently carved sarcophagi for Rousseau and Voltaire are still in the Panthéon's crypt, visited each year by thousands of reverent tourists. The French civil authorities will make no comment as to their contents.

These two great men, their sarcophagi as diametrically opposed in the mausoleum's crypt as in their outlook, had died as enemies. Possibly only the heart and brain of Voltaire remain as the physical testament of that tumultuous period. The heart, removed at Voltaire's death, was passed down through his family and is kept in a golden capsule, safe in the Bibliothèque Nationale...or the family home at Ferney-Voltaire (on the outskirts of Geneva), depending on whom one wishes to believe, pretensions serving both accounts. Somewhere, perhaps on a dusty back shelf in the laboratory of an inconsequential mortuary, may also rest an old beaker preserving the unusually large brain of Voltaire, taken during the official autopsy by a surgeon intent on preserving a special part of history. But lacking labels, and passed down through the centuries, it has been lost to posterity.

The Ultra Monarchists had their reasons. In July 1793, the new revolutionary government of the first French Republic ordered that the tombs and mausoleums of the former kings be destroyed to celebrate the anniversary of the monarchy's overthrow.

The Royal Basilica of St. Denis, just north of Paris, was a special target, since it was the largest repository and during its history had been closely associated with the French royal house. St. Denis, the martyrd first bishop of Paris and patron saint of France, was decapitated on the highest hill over looking Paris, which was subsequently named Montmartre, hill of martyrs. According to the Golden Legend, after his head was chopped off, Saint Denis picked it up and walked several miles, all the time preaching a sermon. the site where he stopped preaching and actually died was made into a small shrine that developed into the basilica.



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