The Cult of the Martyrs of Liberty: Radical religiosity in the French Revolution

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Shifflett, Ashley
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University of Guelph

The Cult of the Martyrs of Liberty emerged as a popular and spontaneous manifestation of sans-culotte affections for Jean-Paul Marat. In death, Marat became a focus for this group's religious sensibilities, and he was transformed into the object of a religious cult which mocked Catholic orthodoxy and venerated revolutionary radicalism. This thesis seeks to qualify Albert Soboul's conclusions on the Cult of Martyrs by examining it as a cultural expression of the sans-culottes' anti-clericalism as well as of their political and social ideals, in light of recent interpretations on Revolutionary religiosity. The celebration of martyrdom was a point of conflict between the revolutionary bourgeoisie and the sans-culottes. This conflict can be seen in efforts by the National Convention and the Paris Commune to control the Cult of Marat by incorporating it into the Cult of the Martyrs of Liberty, which conformed to classical republican ideals. Efforts to supplant the Cult of the Martyrs came with the imposition of Robespierre's Cult of the Supreme Being, and he attempted to channel popular religious energy in new directions until his overthrow. During the Thermidorian Reaction, the 'jeunesse dore?e' attacked the Cult of the Martyrs of Liberty. The Cult of the Martyrs of Liberty continued as a rallying point for former Jacobins who attempted to appeal to the sans-culottes. Along with other aspects of the French Revolution which shaped the modern revolutionary tradition, the cults of Year II of the Republic point to the importance of secular commemoration and hero-worship during times of revolution.

French Revolution, radical religiosity, Jean-Paul Marat, Cult of the Martyrs of Liberty, former Jacobins