OK--enough of that.
Almost everywhere we went with city guides and local guides in France, we heard some reference to the religious wars. At first, I was thinking--huh? Religious extremism has taken hold in France? Well, yes and no. No, not currently. Yes, in the past. I find the denouement of France's religious wars somewhat instructive, perhaps even for U.S. history.
But France? Religious wars? Nope--nothing--no knowledge.
I will not for a minute try to cover the sweep of French history that the religious wars encompass. It is enough to say that, in general, these wars had to do with a century of fighting between Catholics and Protestants. Naturally, powers aligned with each side, so frequently the subject at hand had to do with who would inherit the throne, or who had just inherited the throne, or who people did not want to inherit the throne. Some hot religious topic, right?
The map below, from http://www.lepg.org/wars.htm, gives you some sense of the deep divide within France that these wars caused.
Basically, areas marked in red were Catholic controlled, areas marked in pink were Protestant controlled. The Huguenots were the lead advocates of Protestantism.
Before all the conflict resulting from Catholic vs. Protestant, France was also the scene of an internecine religious war, when the Avignon papacy arose. Once again, the genesis of the religious conflict arose out of a struggle for power. French kings exercised their control over papal selection. When the pope died in 1304, the French cardinals and the Italian cardinals fought over who would dominate and elect the pope. For a year, the papal throne was unfilled. Finally, Pope Clement V was elected--and tipped the balance toward France.
To demonstrate that power shift, the seat of the papacy was eventually moved to Avignon, France, and remained there for 70 years.
Papal seal in Avignon Papal Palace
We visited Avignon and saw the now long abandoned Papal palace. It is a huge cavernous unoccupied building. I couldn't help but think of Shelley's poem "Ozymandias." Admittedly, this poem talks of temporal power. But, even popes die and their kingdoms fade away. Here's the visual evidence of that.
Exterior of Avignon Papal Palace
Ceiling of Papal Dining Hall
Painted walls in Papal bedroom
Interior courtyard of Papal Palace
The Avignon papacy ended when Pope Gregory XI moved back to Rome, but the schism in the Catholic church continued.
When Napoleon rose to power, 4 centuries later, he added to this convoluted religious history. Coming after the French Revolution, as he did, Napoleon benefited from some of the ways in which France had changed. The power structure, of church holding sway over things temporal, had shifted. But Napoleon was still unhappy with the extent of temporal power the church retained. So, Napoleon set about demoting various cathedrals--now you have a cardinal and have a cathedral; now you don't. By simple decree, Napoleon undid much of the church's power structure in France.
Back to our guides and their assertions--actually more than assertions. They would say "religious wars" with almost a note of horror in their voices. Today's France is the heir to this demonstrable separation of church and state. Our guides indicated that no French politician would use his or her religious stance as a means to garner support. The French simply wouldn't stand for it.
I came away from this part of our trip to France wondering. The U.S. has experienced a civil war. Will we be wise enough to steer away from repeating that history? Will we escape the turmoil that a country divided over religion experiences? Will we ever reach the enlightened state where we would have politicians who would NOT use their religious stance as a means of garnering support? I wonder, I wonder, I wonder. . .