- Religion and the Politics of Time: Holidays in France from Louis XIV through Napoleon
By the end of the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church controlled the calendar just as the liturgical year organized the daily lives of millions of ordinary individuals. In Noah Shusterman's words: "In Old Regime France, people perceived and understood the passage of time through a religious framework" (p. 57).
In this richly detailed study, a revised version of his doctoral dissertation completed at the University of California, Berkeley in 2004, the author examines the "politics of time" in the largest Catholic country of Europe over 175 [End Page 819] years. Not only did the liturgical calendar with its fifty-two Sundays require attendance at Mass but also marked these as obligatory days of rest (fêtes chomées). It also mandated observance of various sacred holidays, most notably Easter and Christmas. Days devoted to local saints added to the proliferation of fêtes chomées.
According to Shusterman, in the mid-1600s an average of thirty-three weekdays were religious holidays. By the end of the 1700s, however, this number had fallen to only eighteen (p. 38). Such a gradual reduction in holidays was achieved by bishops who recognized that idleness on such days of rest resulted in heavy drinking, debauchery, and even devil worship. In addition, excessive days of religious observance when labor was forbidden deprived poorer Frenchmen of income needed to support their families. Consequently, both religious and economic reasons induced bishops to reduce the number of holidays either by outright suppression or by transferring their celebration to a Sunday (p. 83).
But it was the Revolution of 1789, with its brutal assault on the Catholic Church, that instituted state control over the politics of time. During the Terror the republican government sought to replace the Catholic liturgical year with a new, secular calendar that would regenerate France while rationalizing time. This republican calendar, with its twelve equal months composed of three décades each, and a leap year of five or six days, brought the state into sharp conflict with traditional French society. As Shusterman observes, the new decimalized calendar "was the national government's first attempt to regulate time without the aid of the Catholic Church" (p. 138).
After the Terror ended in 1794, traditional religious practices regained much of their authority. Although enforcement of the republican calendar declined, it remained official, at least for state purposes. However, after the coup of 18 fructidor year V (September 4, 1797), the government of the Directory moved vigorously to enforce its usage in everyday life.
The author devotes considerable space to the period 1797-99, when strict measures were introduced throughout the country mandating that Tenth Day (décadi) and national festivals were obligatory days of rest. Marriages could now only be celebrated on Tenth Day, and fairs and markets were strictly regulated. Enforcement, however, remained difficult.
Napoleon's seizure of power in November 1799 led to the undoing of the republican calendar. To improve relations with the Catholic Church, the new master of France relaxed the Directory's strict enforcement policy and, by 1806, completely abandoned the Revolutionary system of time. Simultaneously, thanks to an indult issued by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Caprara, even most traditional religious holidays also were eliminated or relegated to Sunday observance. As Shusterman concludes, "There was a shift in the authority over the holidays from the Catholic Church to the French State" (p. 242). [End Page 820]
The author's study rests on extensive research in the French archives. His bibliography alone occupies twenty-two closely printed pages. Shusterman's direct prose enables the reader to follow his argument with little difficulty.
In summary, Religion and the Politics of Time is a model of both scholarly thoroughness and skillful analysis. It provides a valuable source for historians of religion and society in France over a wide swath of time. It is an impressive achievement.