February 17th, 2015 Headsman
Guillaume Jobert, one of the first Reformation martyrs in Paris, had his tongue bored through on this date in 1526,* then was burned at the stake at the Place Maubert.
Jobert, the young gentleman son of the avocat du roi of La Rochelle, incurred this ghastly punishment by making some impious cracks about the faith and in particular the devotions given St. Genevieve.
Genevieve was no one to be trifled with. She was supposed to have stopped Attila the Hun dead in his tracks with her prayerful intercession and saved Paris from the sack in 451, in remembrance of which feat she had become honored as the patron saint of Paris.
Genevieve’s cult really took off in the High Middle Ages, the period when a burgeoning Paris firmly established itself as the hub of all France. So powerful was the Parisian devotion to the saint (and the saint’s devotion to Paris) that her cult became a defining marker of the community — and when that community was ruptured by the Reformation, affinity for the cult came to mark the community’s boundaries. To the extent that Genevieve was identified with Paris, with France, with the sacraments, with the royal family — and she was identified with all these things — the Protestant skepticism of saints posing as divine intercessors with demigod-like spheres of influence positioned reformers in opposition to a good many things more than “merely” theology. There is a secular echo of this same critique from centuries later in Voltaire:
The girl that was born in the stubble fields of Nanterre,
Has become a saint that is implored by hollow and stupid people …
But a good citizen should be devout only to you.
As Moshe Sluhovsky notes in “The Politicizations of Sainte Genevieve”, a chapter of his Patroness of Paris: Rituals of Devotion in Early Modern France, the Protestant Reformation in particular
challenged the sacrality of Paris, the identity of France, and the cult of the saints. It was therefore necessary to reaffirm the city’s Catholicity by redefining it in opposition to heresy. Sainte Genevieve was used to delineate who should be included in the sacred social body and who should be excluded from it.
Overtly blaspheming Genevieve certainly put Joubert in the “exclusion” category.
While we have little specific detail about Joubert, some sense of the gravity of his offense might be gleaned from an event that ensued a decade after his tongue-boring execution, when the Affair of the Placards sparked a furious Catholic backlash against religious dissidents. One week later, six Protestants were burned at the stake following a monumental procession through the city meant to reaffirm France’s devotion to the Catholic faith.
For the occasion, St. Genevieve’s relics were removed from her sacred abbey and marched along with all that abbot’s canons and the king himself. These 1,000-year-old remains never appeared in these sorts of ceremonies “without grette and urgent causes,” an English Protestant observer remarked. Notably, accrding to Sluhovsky, the reliquary on this occasion crossed the Seine to the Right Bank for the first time ever.
* Date from this public-domain French journal.
On this day..
- 1719: Richard Worley, pirate - 2017
- 1688: James Renwick, to end the Killing Time - 2016
- 1815: Eight deserters by order of Andrew Jackson - 2014
- 1938: Juan Soldado, patron saint of Mexico-US migrants - 2013
- 1524: Not Jean de Poitiers, father of the mistress - 2012
- 1944: Jean Cavailles, philosopher-mathematician - 2011
- 1872: Gomburza - 2010
- 1600: Giordano Bruno, freethought martyr - 2009
- 2004: Cameron Willingham, for an accidental fire? - 2008