Saint-Etienne church in Bar-le-Duc and its scary skeleton

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The skeleton - ©MOSSOT / CC-BY The skeleton - ©MOSSOT / CC-BY
Saint-Etienne church in Bar-le-Duc Parish church Tragic destiny René of Chalon Ligier Richier

Ligier Richier and his écorché

Here we are in front of the former collegiate church of Saint-Pierre, founded by the dukes of Bar in 1315. Those one lie here! The church houses a real Renaissance treasure, a sculpture of René de Châlon. A skeleton also know as ″the Ecorché″, ″the Dead″ or ″the Skeleton″.

A master piece from Ligier Richier, a sculptor born in 1506 in the area. You know what? The legend says that the famous Michelangelo, in the area for a few days, was amazed by Ligier’s talent. He even wanted to bring him back in Rome!

In short… Here’s the transi (″cadaver tomb″), located in the right transept. Whoa, pretty scary, isn’t it? Anne de Lorraine, René’s wife, ordered the statue. René died during the siege of Saint-Dizier in 1544, leaving a poor widow who was 25 years old...

A dark resquest!

The legend says that René, who was dying, asked for a funerary monument with his portrait on it: not a young and dashing portrait, but as a skeleton! A legend… because it was Ligier who decided to represent René as a rotting body.

Hey, look, even if he’s dead, he’s triumphing, his arm raising towards the sky! And do you notice this blazon, on the skeleton’s right arm? There’s no coat of arm… because after death, the most powerful prince and the poorest chap were equal, anonymous…

We find this ″transi fashion″ everywhere in France: cardinal Lagrange’s transi in the church of Saint-Martial in Avignon, Valentine Balbiani’s skeleton in le Louvre, Brézé’s cadaver tomb in the cathedral of Rouen...

René de Chalon

From Holland to Lorraine

René was born in Breda (Holland) in 1519. He was a proud warrior, emperor Charles the Fifth’s favourite. Besides, this one married him with Anne de Lorraine, in 1540! A nice wedding where all the upper crust came.

But the war was brewing, even in this quiet and happy day… René soon waged war against the king of France François I.

Wham, a mortal blow in the shoulder

He wrote his will, during this war. Just in case… Did he feel the grim Reaper was roaming? Anyway, René suddenly died, of a mortal blow of culverin. We were on July 14th 1544. A surgeon turned up and immediately operated him. But René’s state get worse: on July 15th, he died… he was only 25.

A Transi for ever

A heart and an hourglass

They brought back his corpse in Bar-le-Duc, in the collegiate church Saint-Maxe. They took his heart and locked it in a little box. And besides, do you notice that our skeleton hold something in his left hand? Yes… his heart!

The French Revolutionaries tried to steal it, by cutting the arm, in November 1793, when the church was plundered. So the heart disappeared! And when they restored the statue in 1810, they put a rough hourglass in his hand instead, made of wood! Whoa, pretty ugly… The hourglass was quickly replaced by a plaster heart (the current one).

Macabre details

During the World War I, the city of Bar sheltered the transi in Paris (in the Panthéon). He came back in a lame condition, broken and so on. So they restored him and definitively replaced him at his current place in the church.

Our skeleton was back! Hey, look at those dry bones, stiffen for eternity! Look at those incredible details… we can see hairs in the inferior part of the skull. The skin hangs on the abdomen, creating a kind of macabre drapery...


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