On the 7th May 1794, just a few weeks before the Law of 22nd Prairial that created the Great Terror, Maximilien Robespierre formally announced the creation of the Cult of the Supreme Being in a meeting of the National Convention.

The Cult had been devised almost exclusively by Robespierre, and followed a period of dramatic de-Christianisation that had seen the French Church stripped of its authority.  The Republic had fought hard to remove the influence of the Church from politics, with even the calendar being changed to remove all religious connotations.

What made the Cult of the Supreme Being unique as the state religion was that it recognised that God had created the universe, but that he did not interfere or intervene in its operation.  Therefore, humans were responsible for their own actions and destinies.  In the words of Robespierre, the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul were, “constant reminders” of the virtuous way people should live their lives in the Republic.

A month later, on the 20th Prairial (otherwise known as the 8th June 1794), Robespierre ordered a national celebration known as the Festival of the Supreme Being.  The most significant celebrations were in Paris, where a huge man-made papier-mâché mountain was built on the Champs de Mars.  This event is seen by many as marking the pinnacle of Robespierre’s influence.  However, within just 8 weeks the Thermidorian Reaction had removed him from power and executed him.

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© Scott Allsop