Experts believe the remains of up to 500 people guillotined during the French Revolution might be buried in the walls of a listed monument in Paris.
The discovery blows apart the accepted historical account, which suggests the bodies of famous people guillotined, including Louis XV’s mistress Madame du Barry, Olympe de Gouges and Maximilien Robespierre, revolutionary architect of the Reign of Terror, were moved to the network of catacombs under the city.
Researchers are to examine the walls of the Chapelle Expiatoire, a classified monument near the Grands Boulevards dedicated to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, after the discovery of bones in the wall cavities.
Chapel administrator Aymeric Peniguet de Stoutz turned historical detective after he noticed curious anomalies in the walls between the columns of the lower chapel.
Anxious not to damage the building’s foundations, the French authorities called in an archeologist, who inserted a camera through the stones in the walls.
In his report, archeologist Philippe Charlier confirmed Peniguet de Stoutz’s hypothesis.
“The lower chapel contains four ossuaries made of wooden boxes, probably stretched out with leather, filled with human bones,” he wrote. “There is earth mixed with fragments of bones.”
The Chapelle Expiatoire was built in the early 19th century at the site of the old Madeleine cemetery, not far from the Place de la Revolution,where the guillotine was frequently used.
The cemetery, closed in 1794, was one of four established in Paris to dispose of the victims of the guillotine.
When Louis XVIII became king in 1814, he ordered the remains of his brother, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette to be removed and interred at the Saint-Denis Basilica and commissioned the chapel in their memory.
His orders were that “no earth saturated with victims [of the revolution] be moved from the place for the building of the work.”
Even so, historians believed the remains of 500 mostly aristocratic victims of the revolution, and out-of-favor revolutionaries like Robespierre, were transferred to another cemetery, then to the catacombs, where a plaque marks their reburial.
“Until now, the chapel served only as a monument to the memory of the royal family, but we have just discovered that it is also a necropolis of the revolution,” Peniguet de Stoutz told Le Parisien. “I cried when the forensic pathologist assured me he had seen human phalange [feet and hand] bones in the photographs.”
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