after 1879, the ruling classes in France held firmly to the view that religion was 'good for the people', if not for the educated bourgeoisie) religion was assigned a prominent place in the primary curriculum and teaching orders like the Marist Brothers seized the opportunity to develop new techniques of religious instruction to reach out to the children of some of the most remote and backward rural areas. For the church, this obligation to educate and socialise the faithful was fundamental to its sense of mission and was defended as a non-negotiable right. Inevitably, therefore, when the state once again dared to challenge the hegemony of the church in this sphere, education immediately became the principal theatre of a renewed culture war between the church and the Republic.
A further factor in the Catholic Revival was what has aptly been called a clerical recuperation of popular religion (the latter term being understood as the mix of animist and heterodox Christian beliefs which held sway in much of the countryside, having survived in the face of efforts down the centuries to convert them into the tenets of Counter-Reformation Catholicism). In the nineteenth century, the church succeeded as never before in narrowing the gap between the religion of the people and the religion of the clergy, largely by embracing beliefs and practices which had powerful resonances with the religious impulses of the rural masses: the cult of saints, the veneration of shrines, the organisation of pilgrimages and enthusiasm for miracles. All of these elements were combined in the promotion (from the pope downwards) of the cult of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, who famously appeared to the peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes in the Pyrenees in 1858 and who was reputed to have been seen at other sites such as La Salette in the French Alps in 1846 and at a convent in Paris in 1830. Pilgrims came to Lourdes in their hundreds of thousands, testifying to the mass appeal of the new, revitalised Catholicism.
There was, however, a price to pay for the narrowing of the gap between learned andpopular religion, namely an immense widening ofthe gap between believers and non-believers, the more so because some of the newer forms of religious enthusiasm appeared to have close links with reactionary politics. The cult of the Sacred Heart, long a favourite of the Jesuits and a banner of royalist and Catholic resistance to the Revolution in the Vendee in the 1790s, was explicitly adopted by militant Catholics as their symbol of a Catholic, as opposed to a Republican, vision of the nation. The building of the massive votive church of the Sacre Cœur in Montmartre after the Paris Commune of 1871 was - and still is - resented by many on the left as a provocation. Rightly or wrongly, the new forms of piety have been labelled together as 'Ultramontane
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