Digital Journal.com By Karen Graham Mon., June 29, 2020
Paris – The administrator of a historic chapel in France noticed the walls were looking odd in places, and he called in an archaeologist to take a professional look. The reason for the anomalies is a dark one, dating back to the French Revolution.
Chapelle Expiatoire is located in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, France, and was commissioned in 1814 by Louis XVIII. After 10 years of construction, the chapel was inaugurated in 1826 in the presence of King Charles X. There is an inscription above the entrance, which reads (translated):
“King Louis XVIII raised this monument to consecrate the place where the mortal remains of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette, transferred on 21 January 1815 to the royal tomb of Saint-Denis, reposed for 21 years. It was finished during the second year of the reign of Charles X, year of grace 1826.”
And while the late neoclassical religious building may seem uncompromising, it took the detective work of Aymeric Peniguet de Stoutz, the chapel’s administrator, to find the secrets the historic monument was hiding.
The administrator noticed curious anomalies in the walls between the columns of the lower chapel, and not wanting to damage the structural integrity of the building, notified the French authorities who called in an archaeologist, who inserted a camera through the stones in the walls.
In his report, archaeologist 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 cemetery closed in 1794 when it reportedly ran out of space. It was one of four designated places where victims of the guillotine were disposed of. In 1814, after becoming king, Louis XVIII had the remains of his brother Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette disinterred and moved to Saint-Denis Basilica and commissioned the new chapel in their memory.
According to historical accounts, Louis XVIII ordered that “no earth saturated with victims [of the revolution] be moved from the place for the building of the work.” So historians believed that 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.