A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

The Story of the Christ rescued from the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis in 1793




The Story of the Christ rescued from the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis in 1793 

By Richard Barton (2019)

The medieval Abbey Church of Saint-Denis, to the north of Paris, was the resting place for generations of French Royalty. However, many bodies were removed from their tombs during the upheaval of the French Revolution. The ancient monarchs were removed to celebrate the revolutionary Festival of Reunion and then, in October 1793, the Bourbon and Valois monarchs were removed to celebrate the execution of Marie Antoinette. The royal bodies were thrown into three trenches and covered in lime.

There was clearly further desecration at that time and an ivory corpus of Christ was rescued by a gardener who carefully preserved it and later bequeathed it to his daughter. She, in turn, left it in her will to an L. Leclerc.


The Skull

The corpus was attached to a simple wooden cross may have come from the Basilica of Notre Dame de Lorette which is situated northwest of Arras at the village of Ablain-Saint-Nazaire. A small chapel was erected there in 1727 by the painter Nicolas Florent Guilbert, who had made a pilgrimage to the original Shrine of the Holy House at Loreto. Guilbert’s French shrine housed a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The chapel was destroyed in 1794 and rebuilt in 1816. However, the cross may, in fact, have come from the Church of Notre Dame de Lorette which existed in Paris, at 54 rue Lamartine, before its destruction at the time of the French Revolution. In 1823 this church was rebuilt by the architect, Louis-Hippolyte Lebas.

The stories of the cross and corpus were carefully written up and then glued to the rear of the cross.

Princethorpe 2.jpg

St Mary’s Priory, Princethorpe

At some point this crucifix passed into care of the nuns of St Mary’s Priory at Princethorpe in Warwickshire and when the community moved to Fernham in Berkshire the crucifix went with them and it remained with the community until the sisters were dispersed in 2002.


Part of the text on the reverse of the Cross

This is what has so far been deciphered of the text on the reverse of the cruciifix:

Cette croix d’autel, previent de la vente du (mob….) du feu M l’abbe Barre decede, chanoine de l’eglise metropolitaine de Rouen, le 2 juillet 1861.

Elle lui ete donnee par M l’abbe Orange, chanoine honoraire de ND de Lorette, Sancta Casa. Voir dans le pied de cette croix, l’authentique (de….) don, a la suite de l’authentique de la relique d’une parcelle de St Bernard, abbe de Citeaux, placee a la bas de cette croix.

L Leclerc


This altar cross came from the sale of the (estate) of the late Monsieur l’Abbe (Barre), deceased canon of the Metropolitan Church of Rouen, the 2nd July 1861. The cross was given to him by Monsieur l’Abbe Orange, honorary canon of Notre Dame de Lorette, the Holy House. See at the base of the cross the genuine ….., and following this, a genuine relic of a fragment of St Bernard, Abbot of Citeaux, placed at the base of the cross.

L Leclerc

Further Text:

Le Christ provident de l’Abbaye Royale de St Denis.

Il a ete sauve lors des sacrileges devastations de ce monastere vers 1793. C’est par ubn serviteur de cette celebre maison religieuse, vieux, nomme (Aleozec) jardinier au dit lieu, qui le conserva. L’ion on est due.

Il m’a ete legue par son testament par sa seconde fille, Mme vve Dieiel, decedee le 12 Avril 18—a Beaucamp (Somme).

L Leclerc


This figure of Christ comes from the Royal Abbey of St Denis.

It was rescued at the time of the sacrilegious devastation of the monastery about 1793.

It was through a servant of this famous religious house, old, named, (Aleozec), gardener of the said place, who preserved it. To him the outcome is due.

It was bequeathed to me through her will, by his second daughter Mme Dieiel, widow, who died 12th April 18—, at Beaucamp, Somme District.

L Leclerc.


Fernham Abbey near Faringdon


If anyone is able to offer further information about this precious object please contact:

3 comments on “The Story of the Christ rescued from the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis in 1793

  1. kethuprofumo
    September 28, 2019

    Dear friends, thank you for this precious post! If you have any information about other objects rescued from Saint-Denis in 1793, please, post it too. What exactly would you like to learn about this Cross? Perhaps, I might help you.
    Best wishes,

    • Richard Barton
      September 28, 2019

      Thank you Maria. This is all that I have but I would like to discover more about the identities of the people involved in the story. With kindest regards Richard

      • kethuprofumo
        September 28, 2019

        Dear Richard you made me curious too. I’m a specialist on the 17th century France. (Louis XIV’s time if be more precise). I will make some research regarding this cross. Let’s see what will come out. In case if you find some information about other interesting articles rescued from Saint-Denis, I beg you to share with me.
        Best wishes & good luck,

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