Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Gobel, the Archbishop of Paris

By Evelyn Goble Steen

Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Gobel was born September 1, 1727 in Thann, Alsace, France. He was educated at the German College in Rome and in 1755 he became vicar-general of the diocese of Basel, Switzerland. In 1789 he was a deputy to the Estates General which met outside Paris.

Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Gobel was Bishop of Lydda, Co-adjutor Bishop of Basle, and a member of the Constitutional Assembly and was elected bishop by 500 votes. The Archbishop of Sens and the Bishop of Orléans refused to give Gobel canonical institution.

On January 3, 1791, Gobel took the oath of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and was consecrated archbishop of Paris.

Gobel surrounded himself with married clerics and through the Marquis of Spinola (Minister of the Republic of Genoa) endeavored to obtain a sum of money in exchange for his capitulation.

At the beginning of 1793 he was at the head of about 600 "sworn" priests, about 500 of whom were employed in parishes. On 7 November, 1793, he solemnly declared before the Convention that he and his subordinates renounced the duties of ministers of Catholic worship, at which point the Convention congratulated him on having "sacrificed the grotesque baubles of superstition". On the same day Notre-Dame was dedicated to the worship of Reason, and Gobel assisted in presiding at that ceremony.

Finally, the Commune of Paris decided that all churches should be closed, and that who ever requested they be reopened should be regarded as suspect.

On November 7, 1793, Gobel resigned his Episcopal functions. He had evidently accepted the principles of the Revolution, including marriage of the clergy. The Hébertists claimed Gobel as one of their own, an identity for which he was condemned to the guillotine along with the anti-Roman Catholic revolutionary Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette, Hébert and Anacharsis Cloots, one of the founders of the cult of Reason.

In March, 1794, after lengthy interviews and after he had written a letter in which he declared his repentance, Gobel was executed.

In the absence of a bishop, the Catholic faithful continued to obey a council formed under the leadership of the former vicar-general, Charles Henri du Valk de Dampierre, who had been in hiding. Public worship was restored by law 30 March 1795. Fifteen churches were reopened and as early as 1796 about fifty places of worship had been reopened in Paris.

For more information on this fascinating time in French history see the sources below.

Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Paris

Pierre Brugire
Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Gobel - encyclopedia article from
Pope Pius VI 13 April 1791 Civil Oath in France

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This page last updated on August 27, 2014