Being Catholic at the end of the 19th centurye century

Being Catholic at the end of the 19th century<sup>e</sup> century

  • All Saints' Day.

    FRIANT Emile (1863 - 1932)

  • The blessed bread.

    DAGNAN-BOUVERET Pascal Adophe Jean (1852 - 1929)

To close

Title: All Saints' Day.

Author : FRIANT Emile (1863 - 1932)

Creation date : 1888

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 254 - Width 334

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage place: Nancy Museum of Fine Arts website

Contact copyright: © Nancy Museum of Fine Arts - Photo C. Philippot

© Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy - Photo C. Philippot

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

In the XIXe century, we observe a disaffection with the Church, a detachment prepared by the breathlessness of religious practice from the 1760s (especially in the cities), the crisis of the clergy and the forced de-Christianization of the year II. "Industrial work, the factory or the factory, the city have had negative effects on the religious loyalty of urban populations" (R. RÉMOND, The XIXe century, 1815-1914, Le Seuil, 1974, p. 203).

Once in power, the Republicans, against whom the Church fought before and after the Syllabus, strive to secularize the state. Admittedly, the majority of French people remain attached to the Church, but, in such a context, the question of the manifestation of religious identity becomes problematic.

Image Analysis

These two tables tell us about the practice of Catholics in the 1880s.

Émile Friant (1863-1932), who began his career in the Cabanel studio, called himself Ingres while being influenced by Bastien-Lepage; All Saints' Day, presented at the Salon of 1889, represents a family walking confidently towards the entrance of a cemetery. All Saints' Day, feast of "all the saints" celebrated on 1er November, is linked to the commemoration of the deceased which takes place the next day. On the occasion of this popular festival, the bourgeois family of Émile Friant, dressed all in black, will flower the graves of their loved ones; the little girl at the head of the procession is about to give alms to a beggar.

We find the same naturalistic precision and taste for detail in the painting by Dagnan-Bouveret (1852-1929), a pupil of Gérôme and Cabanel who exhibited in the Salons from 1875. The use of blessed bread takes place in at the end of Mass, after Communion, when a small snack, piece of bread or cake is distributed to the faithful. The altar boy walks through the ranks, occupied by women dressed in black and rather elderly. The scene is located in a small rural church which, to see the poor condition of the wall, is poorly maintained. It therefore seems out of the way of the evolutions at work: a great movement to beautify places of worship occurs in the second half of the 19th century.e century. At the same time, vast neo-Gothic buildings were created and new materials were used, such as reinforced cement at Saint-Jean-l'Evangéliste in Montmartre.


In these paintings, attention is not paid to the clergy or the pomp of the office, but to the faithful whose ordinary practice is portrayed realistically. The women who eat the blessed bread and the family in their Sunday best on the way to the cemetery shamelessly sacrifice to tradition.

However, it should be noted that, in these scenes, men are hardly present. In France, the practice rates for women are much higher. As faithful, nuns or teachers, they participate in a "feminization of Catholicism" in the 19th century.e century: historian G. Cholvy goes so far as to write that "it is through the Church and her works that many women exert an influence outside the family circle" (G. CHOLVY, Being a Christian in France in the XIXe century, 1790-1914, Le Seuil, 1997, p. 48), especially after the secularization of primary school staff in 1886.

Children also play a notable role. The altar boy and the two young girls remind us that young people are well catechized in the countryside (better than small townspeople and better than the generations born in the middle of the century). From 1882, catechism had to be learned outside of school, which explains the development of voluntary catechisms.

These two paintings temper the idea of ​​a radical dechristianization. Rather, we must consider that the faith was subjected to cycles: ebb during the Revolution, awakening in romantic times, decline in the republican positivist era, spiritualist revival after the separation of Church and State in 1905.

  • Catholicism
  • graveyard
  • dechristianization
  • women
  • secularization
  • begging
  • rite


Gérard CHOLVY, Yves-Marie HILAIRE, Religious history of contemporary France, 1880-1930, t. 2, Privat, 1985.

Gérard CHOLVY, Being a Christian in France in the 19th Century, 1790-1914, Paris, Le Seuil, 1997.

François LEBRUN (dir.), History of Catholics in France from the 15th century to the present day, Toulouse, Privat, 1980.

Jacques LE GOFF, René RÉMOND (dir.), History of religious France, t. 3.

Philippe JOUTARD, From the Very Christian King to Republican Secularism, 18th-19th century, Le Seuil, 1991.

Jean-Marie MAYEUR (dir.), Religious history of France, 19th-20th century. Problems and methods, Paris, Beauchesne, coll. "Beauchesne Library", 1975.

Claude SAVART, The Catholics in France in the 19th Century. The testimony of the religious book, Paris, Beauchesne, coll. “Historical Theology”, 1985.

To cite this article

Ivan JABLONKA, “Being Catholic at the end of the XIXe century "

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