A surge of Lutheran craftsmen
After the death of Louis XIV in 1715, courtiers and lords settled back in Paris. They needed skilled craftsmen. Alsatians and Germans, most of whom were Lutheran, flocked to the capital.
Some were cabinet makers such as Oeben, Riesener and Bennemann, who became king’s cabinet makers ; there were also tailors, shoemakers, hat makers, wig-makers, stocking makers, lace-makers, ribbon-makers, glove makers for refined ladies and marquises, fabric printers such as Oberkampf.
There were also jewellers such as Boehmer and Bassenge, the Queen’s jewellers, and saddlers or carriage builders. It was Ludwig who built, for Fersen, the berline coach in which Louis XVI escaped to Varennes. Musicians introduced baroque music, wind instruments, and the pianoforte into France. Queen Marie-Antoinette ordered a harp from Nadermann.
To get around the guilds, these craftsmen started as independent workers in various suburbs of the capital, for example the cabinet makers in Saint-Antoine , the carriage makers in Saint-Germain. On Sundays, they would get together in the Swedish chapel, whose congregation increased dramatically. A thousand people attended the centenary service.
The Swedish embassy
The close friendship that linked Sweden and France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries allowed, as of 1635, the Swedish ambassadors in Paris to welcome, protect and ensure religious freedom for their fellow worshippers. Worship took place in the chapel of the Swedish embassy. The chapel was not a separate building but a lounge in the mansion that the ambassador rented. The community could boast outstanding pastors, appointed by the king of Sweden from 1711 and being subsidised by him.
The ministry of Pastor Baer (1742-1784) heralded a golden age for the Lutheran craftsmen. He was a bilingual Alsatian, a knowledgeable and humanistic theologian who was received at the French King’s court, but first and foremost, a real pastor who resolved the various problems of integration for this community.
From then on, these Protestant German craftsmen could legally marry French girls as long as they requested a “Royal permit to marry abroad” at the chapel : from 1780, this permit was always granted.
At the Swedish chapel, the pastor preached in German but also in French once a month. The community gradually assimilated this as shown in the writing and signatures in the registers which switched from Gothic to Roman, from German to French .
The craftsmen could be treated at the “Infirmary for all Lutherans” and they could be decently buried in the yard of the cemetery for Protestant foreigners at Saint-Martin’s Gate.
The Danish embassy
In 1746, Danish ambassador Bernstorff decided to open up his chapel : he asked over the German pastor Mathias Schreiber who ministered there until he died in 1784.
A community made up of ordinary German speakers soon formed under the leadership of this pastor : they were unskilled or did ordinary jobs such as coppersmiths, nail makers, tanners. This community was closely-knit and had a welcoming, family atmosphere. German remained the language of communication until the chapel was closed in 1810.
The communities of the Danish and Swedish embassies did not communicate with each other on account of their different languages and social status but their respective pastors got on well and helped each other.
Caught in the revolutionary upheaval
The Danish embassy was not greatly disturbed. Conversely, after the royal family escaped to Varennes in 1791, with the help of Fersen, a Swede, the Swedish embassy was considered as a “nest of conspirators”. The ambassador left his job, followed by the whole embassy staff. The only one who stayed was Pastor Gambs who was insulted, searched, threatened and attacked by the “Red Hoods” of the neighbourhood. He managed to save the registers of the Chapel which the Commune demanded he give them. The community scattered : some went into hiding, some went back to their home country, some others committed themselves to the revolution like George Mutel who was at the head of a gang of looters in Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Johan Koller who was a member of the “Bloody Brigades” in Vendée or Tobias Schmidt who invented and popularised the guillotine.
However, the Swedish and Danish chapels remained open for the brave worshippers who ventured inside. In spite of all the danger, the two pastors, Gambs in the Swedish chapel and Göricke in the Danish chapel, the only Christian pastors to do so, continued with their full ministerial duties throughout the Revolution. The number of services celebrated in both chapels was never as high as during the Terror. Indeed, anybody that showed up could be married or christened, even though they were Catholic.
A French Lutheran church in Paris and the Scandinavian communities
Thanks to the courage of their pastors, the two communities weathered the storm of the Revolution and spread again under the Consulate. Napoleon ordered the French Protestants to leave these foreign chapels and they were gathered together in a Paris French Lutheran church inaugurated in 1809 in the Church of Billettes in the Marais area. It still stands today.
The chapel of the Swedish embassy was closed down in 1806 along with the embassy itself. It was reopened in 1857 with a chaplain attached to the embassy. Services were celebrated at the embassy until the Swedish church in Méderic Street in Paris was built.
The embassy chaplain also became the pastor of this all Swedish Lutheran church. He lived in the adjoining building complex but enjoyed diplomatic status and the honours that went along with it. His situation remained unchanged until the separation of Church and State in Sweden in 2000.
From then on, the church in Méderic Street has directly depended on the Archbishop of Stockholm as do all the Lutheran parishes in Sweden. They only preach and speak in Swedish. The church is totally independent of the embassy.
There had not been a chapel at the Danish embassy since 1810 but the Danish Lutheran community got together again between 1874 and 1915 along with the Norwegian community. Re-established in 1923, it has had a church in Lord Byron Street since 1955.
The registers of the Swedish and Danish embassy chapels, which were used as the civil registers of births, marriages and deaths, hold precious information about the Lutherans of Paris. Unlike the Catholic, Jewish or Reformed registers, they were not stored in the Paris City Hall which burnt down in 1871 during the Commune. They were scattered or forgotten after the chapels had been closed down by Napoleon. After 1968, a lot of them were found. Deciphering them took over 20 years.
- DRIANCOURT-GIROD Janine, Ainsi priaient les luthériens – La vie religieuse, la pratique et la foi des luthériens de Paris au XVIIIe siècle, Éditions du Cerf, Paris, 1992
- DRIANCOURT-GIROD Janine, L’insolite histoire des luthériens de Paris, Albin Michel, Paris, 1992
At the beginning of the 19th century Lutheran churches were organised according to the Organic Articles of 1802. Many Lutherans came and settled in France, especially after the 1870 war and the loss of the Alsace region ; a lot of them however joined the Reformed church.
The Lutherans in Paris
It is largely due to the kings of Sweden and their ambassadors as well as to the loyalty of the Swedish pastors, that the constitution of 1679 for the Lutheran community of Paris – descendants of former immigrants – came into being and that this community was later able to survive after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
The Calas affair
Jean Calas, a Protestant merchant, was sentenced to death on the Wheel by the Parliament in Toulouse and executed on March 10th, 1762 after being convicted of murdering one of his sons who had openly converted to Catholicism.
The Sirven affair
Although less known than the Calas affair, the Sirven case became the topic of conversation among Protestants in Montagne du Tarn. Voltaire became a staunch advocate of the Sirven family and had their name restored.
Relative tolerance for the Protestants
In the second part of the XVIIIth century, the political regime which took over the government in France was, on the whole, fairly tolerant towards Protestants, although there were some tragic exceptions to the rule.
Paul Rabaut (1718-1794)
As a pastor in the “Churches of the Desert”, Paul Rabaut lived a secret and dangerous life
The Protestants under the French Revolution
In late 1791 in France the Revolution had answered the majority of Protestant expectations. Several Protestants were involved in the unfolding of events and took part in the different political assemblies.
Dechristianisation under the Terror meant that public worship was forbidden and many pastors resigned. The Protestants returned to their clandestine assemblies.
Worshiping survived in the chapels of Scandinavian embassies.
Religion in the “Desert” period
After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, French Protestants went into exile or abjured their religious faith. However, among those who abjured, some continued to practice in secret: they read the Bible in their families and held clandestine assemblies of the Desert. When discovered, this religious practice was severely repressed, and many were martyrs for their faith.