“There is a tide in the affairs of men…”*

*Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” Act IV, Scene iii

Having read Timothy Verhoeven’s paper about it before I travelled to Lille, I wanted to put the Flamidien Affair out of my mind. But today is 6th February, and the day after the anniversary of the murder of 12 year old Gaston Foveaux at his school in Lille in 1899.

Moreover, I am staying at the Hotel de la Treille, and my room overlooks the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Treille. On one side, the Cathedral faces the open side of the quadrangle round which Gaston’s former school buildings stood. The buildings now house the diocesan lay apostolate, but at the fin de siecle, the school was just one of twelve in Lille run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

The murder was never solved. It was believed that the crime, which was sexually motivated, must have been committed inside the school by one of the brothers. Suspicion fell on Frere Flamidien, who spent 152 days in custody before being released for lack of evidence to warrant a trial.

Verhoeven explains how Flamidien became a central figure in what historians have labelled the “War of Two Frances”, the France of the Revolution versus Catholic, conservative France. He writes:

”The period which followed Pope Leo XIII’s call in 1892 for Catholics to rally the republic marked a moment of relative tranquility. But the peace was quickly and dramatically broken by the Dreyfus Affair. The vicious campaign on the part of certain Catholic orders, notably the Assumptionists, against Captain Alfred Dreyfus and his supporters sparked an intense republican backlash, making the National Assembly once again, in Maurice Larkin’s terms, “an anticlerical wilderness.” So vehement was the republican reaction that the government acted in a manner which the majority of modern scholars describe as indefensible. Under the leadership of Emile Combes, the government dissolved hundreds of Catholic congregations, leading to the confiscation of approximately 200 million francs worth of property amidst widespread corruption, and the eviction of tens of thousands of monks and nuns from their communities.”.

Verhoeven goes on:

”By 1903 the republican regime was embarking on a new campaign against Catholic schools. Under legislation put forward just months after Flamidien’s release, and which eventually became law on July 1, 1901, all religious corporations were forced to apply to the government for authorisation. Under Emile Combes, the government used the law to abolish the majority of Catholic congregations. A further law in 1904 banned those that remained from all forms of teaching in France. Amongst its victims were the Brothers of the Christian Schools. In a report on the execution of the law, a government agent visited the school at 39, rue de la Monnaie which had been the scene of such drama only five years before. The premises, he reported, were empty; the neighbors reported that the Brothers had packed up and left for Belgium a month before.”.

 

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