Monday, April 08, 2019

First Paragraph

"Sometime during the snowy winter of 1793, under cover of night, a small group of thieves pried open a wooden door leading into the Church of Saint-Roch. Forced entry into the Paris sanctuary was nearly a weekly occurrence during this time of revolution. In the early 1790s, anticlerical vandals had pulled enormous religious paintings off the walls and slashed the canvases. Other trespassers had made off with more portable works of art, including an exquisite statue sculpted by ├ëtienne-Maurice Falconet. On this particular night, however, the intruders came to steal whatever copper, silver, or lead they could find in the crypt located underneath the Chapel of the Virgin. Setting to work in front of the chapel's altar, the grave robbers used long iron bars to lever aside the mattress-sized marble slab in the center of the floor. Though they surely had no idea who was buried in the vault, the most loutish of the group, assuming he could read, would still have recognized the name of the writer Denis Diderot inscribed on one of the caskets. Dead for nine years, the notorious atheist had been the driving force behind the most controversial book project of the eighteenth century, the Encyclop├ędie. This massive dictionary had not only dragged sacrilege and freethinking out into the open, but triggered a decades-long scandal that involved the Sorbonne, the Paris Parlement, the Jesuits, the Jansenists, the king, and the pope."

- From Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely by Andrew S. Curran

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