Campaign of the Month: August 2011
Le Ballet de l'Acier
Le Grand Temple
After the arrival of Calvinism in La Rochelle in the middle of the sixteenth century, Huguenots worshipped in a variety of locations around the city. The earliest sermons were heard in cellars or in Catholic churches after mass, including the églises of Saint-Saveur and Saint-Barthélemy. The refectory of the Augustinian convent of Sainte-Marguerite became the temple of Saint-Yon, but the congregation soon outgrew the facility.
In 1569, the city granted the Huguenots permission to build a temple. The first stone of the temple was laid by the prince de Condé himself, but the project languished even as La Rochelle became a Huguenot refuge. The Reformed worship was banned througout France following the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, and the following year the city was besieged by King Charles IX at the head of the royal army. The king’s forces could not defeat the city, however, and eventually a peace treaty was signed; La Rochelle remained in Huguenot hands.
After Charles’ death, he was succeeded by his brother, Henri III, and war resumed until 1576 when a treaty granted Huguenots the right to worship. In 1577, construction of the Grand Temple began anew. The architect, Philibert Delorme, was the builder of the Tuileries palace in Paris. The first sermon was preached in the completed temple in 1603.
The temple is an elongated octagon, roughly twenty meters long by fifteen wide. The roof is sheathed in lead. Two doors provide entry to the temple, framed by tall Corintian columns and topped by a frieze which continues around the building. On the south side a small octagonal bell tower rises from the side of the building.