The blurb outside the ruins of this Cluny abbey at Donzy, at the edge of Burgundy, gives the dry facts.
Built in 1103. Destroyed by the Protestants in 1569, then during the Revolution in 1793 and again at the end of XIX century.
Similar stories with similar dates are told by other ruins all over France. That is, when ruins survive.
According to the eminent medievalist Régine Pernoud, some 80 per cent of France’s Romanesque and Gothic buildings were demolished either by the Huguenots or the revolutionaries and their heirs.
One can’t begin to imagine the glory of France as she was when 100 per cent of those buildings were still standing – considering that few countries can match even the 20 per cent she has left. I shan’t even try to strain my imagination.
Instead I’d like to offer those ruins as yet another reminder of what happens when mob instincts are no longer restrained by civilisation. For civilisation is the tether that fetters the beast in us, preventing it from leaping out, fangs bared.
That beast has never been defanged, much less put down. It can only be provisionally tamed by civility, which is a cognate of civilisation. But it’s always there in the background, growling and awaiting its opening.
You don’t have to believe in Original Sin to verify this observation. Empirical evidence over history ought to suffice.
Once some group of people, usually small, always driven, find a way of exploiting mob instincts for their own purposes, the beast pounces and devours all before it – not just the original target against which it was let loose.
Both the rationalisation and post-rationalisation are never in short supply. The people were driven to despair, the typical story goes, by legitimate grievances they could no longer tolerate.
They weren’t. They were driven to overt beastliness by some clever rabble-rousers who knew how to suppress civilisational constraints and appeal to the feral part of human nature.
This isn’t to say that the grievances used as the pretext weren’t legitimate. Since all human institutions are operated by people who are fallen and therefore fallible, none can be held up to absolute standards of goodness. It’s always possible to find something wrong, at times very wrong.
In the run-up to the Reformation the Church indeed indulged in some corrupt practices, although not nearly on the scale claimed by the reformers. But some priests, monks and nuns were indeed as venal, lustful and gluttonous as those depicted by Boccaccio and Rabelais.
Nor was the Church hierarchy free of blame, although, when its enemies wish to attack the Church, it’s always the Borgias they talk about, never Augustine, Leo I or Gregory the Great.
By the same token, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette weren’t ideal monarchs, even though the latter never really suggested that infamous dietary change to the starving people. Yet neither were they the sadistic mass murderers that their enemies proved to be.
Whatever problems existed should have been pointed out and, if possible, solved – though not by the mob, but by the same groups that were the sole guardians of civilisation.
But even if left unsolved, those problems would have had no calamitous effects in France to match the wanton destruction that began at the Reformation, continued through that great misnomer of the Enlightenment, culminated in the horrors of the Revolution and Napoleonic wars, and still radiated its tectonic waves throughout the nineteenth century.
The same, mutatis mutandis, can be said about every mass popular uprising, whatever its pretext and however expertly it’s enveloped in noble-sounding demagoguery.
Once the beast slips its chain, walls will tumble and blood will flow. Clipping the chain back on may sometimes be possible, eventually, but it’s never easy. And it always takes a long time.
If you look at the great popular revolts of the last 600 years, the Reformation, the two English Revolutions and those in France, America and Russia, each did more harm than good. And even those that did do some good, didn’t do enough to compensate for the blood spilled, destruction wreaked and social order obliterated.
Looking at l’Abbaye Notre Dame du Pré at Donzy, it’s hard to think of anything that has made up for its demise, and especially for what it signifies. That is, unless you regard as sufficient compensation the wind farms that have replaced the wind mills.
For it’s not just the Abbey that lies in ruins. It’s our Western civilisation, debauched, prostituted and systematically supplanted by a vulgar impostor that has the gall to call itself by the same name.
P.S. I’d like to apologise to the Duchess of Sussex (aka Meghan Markle). When the subject of her erotic photos came up at a dinner party the other day, I inadvertently stated it was nothing compared to the scandal involving her maternal great-great-grandmother who had posed nude for National Geographic. That rumour, which I accidentally spread and indeed originated, has no basis in reality.