Reason, Cult of Goddess of

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A civic, naturalistic religion of the french revolution, dedicated to the worship of Reason and Liberty and intended as a substitute for Christianity. The Paris Commune, under the leadership of Pierre Chaumette, inaugurated the cult with a ceremony in the cathedral of Notre Dame (Nov. 10, 1793), three days after Jean gobel, the constitutional bishop of the capital, had been induced to abdicate his priesthood. In the cathedral a shrine was erected in honor of Reason and Liberty. In front of the choir a sacred mountain was constructed, surmounted by a small Greek temple in honor of Philosophy. Surrounding it were busts representing leading figures in the enlightenment (probably Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Benjamin Franklin). A young opera singer, whose name remains uncertain, posed as Liberty and was dubbed "Goddess of Reason." A flame, symbolic of truth, burned on an altar, while white-clad young girls, wearing tricolored sashes representative of allegiance to the Republic, carried torches up and down the sacred mountain. Meanwhile the congregation sang André Chenier's hymn: "Come, Holy Liberty, dwell in this temple; become the Goddess of the French people."

As the cult spread to other parts of France, modifications were introduced. Some temples of Reason recognized the Supreme Being; others venerated Brutus or Jean Marat. The revolutionary extremists, who were trying to dechristianize the country, claimed that Christianity was too otherworldly to oppose tyranny and was nearing extinction. They hoped to speed the process with the new cult. One of their chief vehicles of propaganda was Moniteur du culte de la raison, edited by Pierre Chantreau. Jacobins eagerly adopted the cult, even in the provinces. By order of the commune (Nov. 24, 1793), all churches in Paris were transformed into temples of Reason. The Cult of Reason vanished quickly, after its chief exponents, Chaumette and Jacques Hébert, were guillotined (March 24, 1794); it was supplanted by the Cult of the supreme being (May 1794).

Bibliography: f. aulard, Le Culte de la raison et le culte de l'Etre Suprême, 179394 (Paris 1892). a. sicard, À la recherche d'une religion civile (Paris 1895). a. mathiez, Les Origines des cultes révolutionnaires, 17891792 (Paris 1904); Contributions à l'histoire religieuse de la révolution française (Paris 1907). a. latreille, L'Église catholique et la révolution française, 2 v. (Paris 194650).

[m. lawlor]