the German and Italian states. But the radicals in power also took measures to limit the influence of priests who had long supported the Revolution. Decrees were pushed through stripping the curés of responsibility for registering births, marriages, and deaths in the parishes; restricting their right to wear clerical garb in public; and disbanding the regulars still serving in schools and hospitals. Another law imposed a new pledge of allegiance to the government, the so-called 'oath of liberty and equality', required now of all clergy - both regular and secular - not just those with cure of souls. In early September, in a climate of fear and anarchy and with an invading army approaching the capital, rumours spread wildly that counter-revolutionary inmates were plotting to break out and attack the unprotected Parisians. Crowds of local citizens broke into prisons and murdered hundreds of people, including three bishops and some 220 other refractory clergymen who happened to be incarcerated there. Similar killings took place in several provincial towns.

Thereafter, relations between the government and the clergy continued to deteriorate. Large popular uprisings broke out in western France (Brittany, Maine, Normandy, and the 'Vendee') and in portions of the Protestant south, all motivated in part by the Revolution's religious polices, and led - or thought to be led - by elements of the refractory clergy. The 'Federalist' revolts of the summer of 1793 - protesting the domination of the Revolution by radical factions in Paris - saw the participation of several leaders of the Constitutional Church. Many anticlerical radicals had committed themselves to supporting that church precisely because they believed it could help promote social stability. But when a minority of constitutionals seemed to follow the refractories in lending support to rebellions, many revolutionaries lost all patience with both the clergy and religion.


For close to two centuries historians have debated the origins and significance of the movement of'de-Christianization', generally dated between the autumn of 1793 and the summer of 1794. To what extent was the attack on Christianity coerced from above by a small group of revolutionary fanatics? To what extent did it represent a dramatic shift in values among larger segments of the population? Research pursued over the last thirty years has substantially illuminated the question, but the various currents of de-Christianization were complex and at times contradictory, and much uncertainty still remains.6

Clearly the movement must be placed in the political context of the 'Reign of Terror' with which it closely coincided. It was a period in which France

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