The other week my daughter and I made a trip to the Museum of Sacred Art
. Frankly, it should be renamed The Museum of Illegally Confiscated Church Property
Originally a Cistercian convent for nuns, it was transferred from the city of Tart to Dijon in 1623 as the very first female Cistercian order (founded in 1125). The convent was completed in 1708, and the nuns enjoyed approximately 90 years of order and tranquility, until the Jacobins arrived.
In the summer of 1792, 270 priests who had refused to take the oath to the constitution were arrested in Dijon and deported. (Considering that Dijon is not a terribly large city, it's remarkable there were so many priests here.) Monasteries were overtaken and religious run out of town. (According to its website
, "A la Révolution, les Bernardines furent chassées.") The Cistercian convent was turned into a garrison house. All the sacred articles were confiscated. Such articles can be seen two centuries later today in the Museum of Sacred Art.
I found the convent by its green cupola and gold cross, which rises high above the surrounding buildings. One walks through the cloister to find the Museum entrance.
There are actually two museums in the monastery; the other is the Museum of Burgundian Life, which occupies the cloister, complete with cheesy wax figures depicted in everyday settings from the 18th and 19th centuries, like the scene below. To think that the hallowed halls where once Christ's consecrated lived, worked, prayed, and offered sacrifices in reparation for the sins of the world is now taken up with rakish dummies idly standing about is too much.
The sanctuary beneath the round cupola holds the holy articles: venerated statues, images, liturgical vestments, relics, and, most unfortunately, golden ciboria, chalices, and patens that once held the Sacred Body and Blood of Our Lord, now standing row upon row in sterile glass cases to be gawked at as if they were decorative ornaments. The sense of wonder and reverence I felt as I walked through the museum was tinged with not a small amount of irritation at this illegal plunder by the French government—plunder that really ought to be returned to its rightful owner, the Church.The sanctuaryThe skulls of St. Bartholomew, St. Victor, two of the 11,000 virgins murdered with St. Ursula by the Huns, and St. Lucy (particularly special, because her feast day coincides with the birth of my daughter)Bust and relics of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, born in Dijon in 1090Eighteenth-century scapular (If one looks closely, my reflection can be seen)Reliquary of early Roman martyrs (apologies for the blurriness; flash was not allowed, and my camera doesn’t focus well without it)No, that is not a headless priest standing before one of the many ornate altars, but a display of vestments. Marie grins in front."In this chapel were assembled the bodies of the victims of the bombings and war for the liberation of Dijon in 1944, and the bodies of soldiers who died for France in Indochina in 1954 and in Algeria in 1962."
At times, one is struck by the feeling that all is foreordained. As we left the museum and wandered down rue Sainte Anne
, not quite certain where we were and in which direction we were headed, I suddenly came upon this:
I had seen the image of this building many a time before, but here it was, its baroque façade looming gloriously before me, and entirely by chance. It was none other than the first chapel of the Carmelites of Dijon, erected in the 1600s and destroyed, once again, by the Jacobins during the Revolution. Only the façade remains; the rest of the building, reconstructed in modern style, houses the city administration. The scale of the building can be measured against my two-year-old, the little pink speck sitting on the steps.