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Erasing Christianity in France

In early March, the organizing committee for the upcoming Paris Olympics released its official promotional poster, featuring familiar Parisian landmarks—the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Dôme des Invalides—dropped into a brightly colored and surrealistic landscape of stadiums, Olympic rings, and cheering crowds. Something was conspicuously missing, though. The poster depicts the Dôme des Invalides, commissioned by Louis XIV and repository of Napoleon’s tomb, without the gilded Christian cross that has adorned its pinnacle since its construction in the late seventeenth century. Instead of a cross, the poster shows a simple spike, like the one on top of the Chrysler Building.

French conservative lawmakers were outraged. Nicolas Meizonnet of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally complained that the omission of the cross represented “wokeism” at its fawning worst. Other politicians on the right accused the organizers of erasing France’s distinctive history and national identity.

The Dôme des Invalides, considered a masterpiece of baroque architecture, was originally a royal chapel commissioned by Louis XIV as part of the Hôtel des Invalides, a hospital for wounded soldiers that is now a French army museum. In 1861 Napoleon’s remains were transferred to the Dôme. Napoleon was an enemy of the Catholic Church, or at least of the papacy and the Papal States, which he regarded as challengers to his goal of French-dominated European republicanism. Still, Napoleon received the Catholic last sacraments before his death in exile on Saint Helena in 1821. Although Les Invalides is no longer a religious edifice, a Catholic Mass is still celebrated in the Dôme on May 5, the anniversary of Napoleon’s death.

Blame laïcité, the militant secularism that has been official French policy since the revolution and tries to confine religious expression strictly to private life. But the missing cross on the Olympics poster isn’t quite analogous to France’s current ban, for example, on wearing a crucifix (or a hijab) to class at a state school. It’s the deliberate alteration—and thus, falsification—of an image of an existing cross, one that the French government itself permits in the interest of historical accuracy and architectural integrity. A closer analogy may therefore be the Stalinist practice of airbrushing out of photos of the Great Leader any subordinates who had fallen out of favor.

In fact, official policy hasn’t even been at issue with the Olympics poster. Its creator, Ugo Gattoni, a leading commercial illustrator (Hermès scarves are one of his specialties), explained to the media that he had no “ulterior motive” for omitting the cross in his depiction of Les Invalides. Gattoni said that his aim hadn’t been to make his images “accurate” but to place them “within a surrealist and celebratory universe.” His supporters point out that his poster (actually a pair of interlocking posters) paints the Eiffel Tower a festive but non-realistic pink and depicts a Métro train running through the Arc de Triomphe.

Read more at First Things 

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